It’s becoming pretty clear, particularly from today’s Snowden Q&A and the partial transcript from President Obama’s Charlie Rose interview, that we’re zeroing in on how the government accesses private individual data.
If you’re not a “U.S. person,” there are few restrictions on what the U.S. government can do to monitor you. If you are a U.S. person then there are at least some restrictions, and the involvement of at least the secret FISA court, before that data can be accessed.
What’s also clear are that these are just policy decisions, as Snowden puts it, and that things may have been different in the past and can be different in the future.
My guess is that most journalists will continue to dig into the FISA court stuff. This quote alone is a gold mine for arguing that there is no true judicial oversight on any of this stuff:
Charlie Rose: But has FISA court turned down any request?
Barack Obama: The — because — the — first of all, Charlie, the number of requests are surprisingly small… number one. Number two, folks don’t go with a query unless they’ve got a pretty good suspicion.
In other words, “trust us.”
But here’s what journalists should be asking at this point: What data does the government store? How long have they been storing it? Do they ever delete it?
All of the government arguments around 4th Amendment protections center on policy decisions regarding what the NSA and FBI can look at. But as they make these arguments they imply that the data is already sitting on government servers. Snowden, of course, doesn’t imply this, he says it flat out.
This is what scares me the most. Not that today’s government is using this data improperly today (although the IRS scandal certainly shows that the government is quite willing to use data improperly). Rather, I’m much more concerned with what the government will do with this data down the road.
Knowing that the government will start surveillance on you if you do something wrong is one thing.
But knowing that you are constantly being watched, with everything you do being stored in a database somewhere, is something else. It doesn’t matter if anyone is looking at it today. Knowing that anything you do now, innocently, may be evidence of a crime in 5, 10 or 30 years, is the opposite of freedom. No matter how you look at it.
I don’t understand how the government can argue that storing, possibly forever, every phone call and every email and our location and everything else can somehow be consistent with the rights acknowledged under the 4th amendment. Until journalists start asking these questions, however, they won’t even be forced to make those arguments.