Last week, President Obama called a press conference and delivered a speech highlighting his position on NSA surveillance and the actions that he will take to bring more “public confidence” to the system.
The speech was strategically timed to occur on a late Friday afternoon — it avoids the full impact of weekday news and allows Obama to escape all subsequent criticism as he vacations on Martha’s Vinyard. More important, however, the speech shows a president who doesn’t understand the root cause of Americans’ concerns with the system.
Obama initially stated that he was “comfortable that the program currently is not being abused,” but adding that on account of the passionate debate being raised on the issue, he would place more internal oversight on the NSA, the FISA court, and the collection of data under section 215 of the 1978 FISA. This reflects a similar stance that the president has taken on the debate in the past, repeatedly arguing that constitutional safeguards were already in place in the system — but they had to remain hidden from the public.
The president fails to grasp that the strongest constitutional protection is transparency. So-called protections, if their actions are kept secret, are worthless, since they cannot be held accountable to the law. The creation of the FISA court, for instance, was supposed to be a protection for the public by requiring NSA requests to be presented before a judge. However, the covert functions of the court allowed it to become a yes man to the NSA, without having anyone cry wolf.