NSA Surveillance Enters Republican Debate

I don’t think there is anyone who would voluntarily give up their privacy. Being under the assumption that you are being constantly monitored- even if you aren’t doing anything wrong- is a tough thing to deal with. I believe that if more Americans, and netizens globally, knew the full breadth of government ordained surveillance then they would be a lot more weary of the powers that be.

I don’t claim to know all there is about internet surveillance. Heck, there are probably some things going on now that the public won’t know about for 5 or 10 years (if ever). But what I do know worries me to no ends. The thought that Americans could applaud the current state of surveillance is nothing short of appalling.

The Republican presidential debate on Thursday was a shining example of the ignorance that some people have- which is unproportionately amassed on the right wing. One of the most talked about moments from the debate was the three minutes of sparring that took place between former Governor Chris Christie and Senator Rand Paul on the issue of the NSA and government surveillance.

NSA Surveillance in the Debate

Although the moderators skirted around some hot topics like race, gun control, and threatening government shutdowns in order to win political standoffs, one unlikely issue did make it’s way onto the table.

The issue that interests LiquidVPN and I the most made its way into the debate when Megyn Kelly asked Chris Christie to clarify comments he had made on Rand Paul’s stance on the NSA. “Do you really believe you can assign blame to Senator Paul just for opposing the bulk collection of people’s phone records in the event of a terrorist attack?”

Christie started by saying, “I was appointed U.S. attorney by President Bush on September 10th, 2001, and the world changed enormously the next day.” Which itself is somewhere between a misspeak and an outright lie to garner affection. His own website says his term was from 2002-2008. He was simply called by President Bush to be notified of his nomination on September 10.

Most people that have followed the back and forth of politicians debating the worthiness of NSA surveillance can probably guess what Christie’s said next.

The old ‘these surveillance programs have saved Americans’ lives’ card was played. Although several independent reports and other government reports- including one released in May of this year- state other wise.

The agents we interviewed did not identify any major case developments that resulted from use of the records obtained in response to Section 215 orders.

-DOJ Inspector General report May 28, 2015

Another recent report says that despite targeted intelligence efforts and a sustained airstrike campaign, ISIS is no weaker than a year ago.

Christie went on, “When you actually have to be responsible for doing this you can do it, and we did it, for seven years in my office, respecting civil liberties and protecting the homeland… We have to give more tools to our folks to be able to do that, not fewer, and then trust those people and oversee them to do it the right way.”

And therein lies the problem.

‘Trust’ is a mighty big word to use for an organization that was conducting a multitude of clandestine operations without the public’s knowledge for several years. The programs were not ever disclosed voluntarily, or ever fully disclosed at all. There mere fact that we know anything about these programs is a near miracle. Furthermore, the operation of said programs are a one sided request for information that has not even the palest resemblance of a court proceeding other than it involves a judge. Who, by the way, isn’t privileged to know the details about how the information will be gleaned.

And yet we are supposed to ‘trust’ an organization who operates programs that we are not even supposed to know about? The suggestion is almost offensive.

But what’s that I hear? Applause coming from the audience in response to Chris Christie?

Appalling, simply appalling.

The Volley

Senator Rand Paul responded with what should have been the NSA’s approach from the start, “I want to collect more records from terrorists, but less records from innocent Americans, the Fourth Amendment was what we fought the Revolution over. I will continue to stand for the Bill of Rights.” Which got some applause of its own as well.

From here, the back and forth gets nearly comical- if it weren’t so frustrating.
Christie: “You know, that’s a completely ridiculous answer: ‘I want to collect more records from terrorists, but less records from other people.’ How are you supposed to know?”
Paul: “Get a warrant! Get a judge to sign a warrant.” Suggesting that the Fourth Amendment should be adhered to when the NSA conducts surveillance.

Christie: “Listen, Senator, you know, when you’re sitting in a subcommittee, just blowing hot air about this, you can say things like that.”

After this, the two throw some cheap shots at each other; Paul about Christie hugging the President, Christie at Paul for putting his speeches from Congress on the internet- before the moderator called time.

Small Victory, Big Fight

I have pondered before on this blog about whether or not it matters who the next president is  when it comes to NSA surveillance. In all actuality I am glad that this debate is being had at all. The fact that NSA surveillance is debated at all- let alone at a Republican debate- is a small victory in itself.

The most shocking thing for me about the debate is that, not only did Donald Trump dominate the amount of airtime (10.5 minutes to Jeb Bush’s less than 9), but he is currently leading the polls.

Appalling, simply appalling.

feature image courtesy of DonkeyHotey via flickr


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