President Obama is trying to have his surveillance cake, and eat it too.
The Obama administration has asked a secret surveillance court to ignore a federal court that found bulk surveillance illegal and to once again grant the National Security Agency the power to collect the phone records of millions of Americans for six months.
The legal request, filed nearly four hours after Barack Obama vowed to sign a new law banning precisely the bulk collection he asks the secret court to approve, also suggests that the administration may not necessarily comply with any potential court order demanding that the collection stop.
US officials confirmed last week that they would ask the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court – better known as the Fisa court, a panel that meets in secret as a step in the surveillance process and thus far has only ever had the government argue before it – to turn the domestic bulk collection spigot back on.
Justice Department national security chief John A Carlin cited a six-month transition period provided in the USA Freedom Act – passed by the Senate last week to ban the bulk collection – as a reason to permit an “orderly transition” of the NSA’s domestic dragnet. Carlin did not address whether the transition clause of the Freedom Act still applies now that a congressional deadlock meant the program shut down on 31 May.
The Obama White House pays a lot of lip service to civil libertarians and progressives who care about privacy, but actions speak louder than words. Maybe the Administration was channeling their inner Jonathan Gruber and counting on the “stupidity of the American people” not to notice.