Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Obama’s proposed NSA reforms prove he doesn’t understand checks and balances

Obama’s proposed NSA reforms prove he doesn’t understand checks and balances

President Obama delivered a speech on Friday outlining his plans to address the widespread outrage over the domestic surveillance activities of the National Security Agency. However well-intentioned, the president’s proposals indicate he just doesn’t get the constitutional notion of delegated powers.

Implicit in the Fourth Amendment is the principle that the government should remain powerless unless and until an individual is reasonably suspected of having committed a crime. It isn’t even allowed to search one’s person or papers (viz. phone records, emails) to collect the proof it needs until it persuades a judge that it has probable cause.

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All of these checks rest upon the assumption that power will be abused if it is not forcibly limited. In the president’s own words, “it is not enough for leaders to say: Trust us.”

These checks and balances don’t exist under current FISA law. The FISA court operates in secret, so the people aren’t there to verify directly that they administer justice properly. Neither can they see for themselves that the executive actually carries out the court’s instructions.