Is Obama Coming Back From the Dark Side on Privacy?

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
May 23 2013 6:10 PM

Is Obama Coming Back From the Dark Side on Privacy?

169351687
President Barack Obama speaks about his administration's drone and counterterrorism policies at the National Defense University.

Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama’s Thursday speech has been widely billed as a drones address, but his remarks briefly touched on a couple of important issues involving privacy and surveillance. He seemingly acknowledged that his administration has come down too often on the side of secrecy over transparency, and of excessive security over liberty.

In the speech, delivered at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., Obama appeared to directly support the FBI’s contentious proposal for enhanced Internet snooping powers. He said that it was necessary to review “the authorities of law enforcement, so we can intercept new types of communication.” He added, however, that it would be necessary at the same time to “build in privacy protections to prevent abuse"—in an apparent attempt to quell civil liberties advocates’ fears about the scope of the authorities’ powers.

Later, Obama indirectly addressed the recent revelations about the Justice Department’s spying on journalists as part of aggressive leak probes. He took a swipe at the DoJ, saying that he was “troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable” and that “journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs." He went on to acknowledge that “expanded surveillance” in the aftermath of 9/11 had “raised difficult questions about the balance we strike between our interests in security and our values of privacy,” adding that some counter-terror tactics “compromised our basic values.”

Advertisement

Obama seemed to try to return to the values he had claimed to champion prior to his coming to power—and his speech was certainly long overdue. Back in 2006, before becoming president, Obama strongly criticized the Bush administration’s so-called warrantless wiretapping program as “accountable to no one and no law” and blasted Bush for what he viewed as “unbounded authority without any checks or balances.” But just a few years later, these same criticisms have been repeatedly leveled at Obama due to his own administration’s use (and occasional threats of using) state secrets privilege on surveillance and drone strikes. On Thursday the president tried to show that he is listening to his critics. His challenge now will be to match his words with meaningful action.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Ryan Gallagher is a journalist who reports on surveillance, security, and civil liberties.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Cheez-Its. Ritz. Triscuits.

Why all cracker names sound alike.

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

The Afghan Town With a Legitimately Good Tourism Pitch

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

  News & Politics
Photography
Sept. 21 2014 11:34 PM People’s Climate March in Photos Hundreds of thousands of marchers took to the streets of NYC in the largest climate rally in history.
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 22 2014 8:07 AM Why Haven’t the Philadelphia Eagles Ever Won a Super Bowl?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Science
Sept. 22 2014 8:08 AM Slate Voice: “Why Is So Much Honey Clover Honey?” Mike Vuolo shares the story of your honey.
  Arts
Television
Sept. 21 2014 9:00 PM Attractive People Being Funny While Doing Amusing and Sometimes Romantic Things Don’t dismiss it. Friends was a truly great show.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 7:47 AM Predicting the Future for the U.S. Government The strange but satisfying work of creating the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends report.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 22 2014 5:30 AM MAVEN Arrives at Mars
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.