'NSA and Obama administration got an F'
The US federal judge's ruling, calling NSA spying unconstitutional, is a game-changer, and even now the US administration doesn't really understand how disgusted most Americans are with the NSA programs and US politicians, columnist Ted Rall told RT.
RT: It's been a hot couple of days for the NSA. Do you think the court's decision has given those dozen internet executives leverage in their demands for reforms?
Ted Rall: There's no question that this is a huge decision and it's a game-changer. This is the first time that a real federal judge who's sitting on an independent court dealing with suspects or I should say non-suspects in a criminal investigation has considered one of the NSA's broad-sweeping programs. And the judge was not only determined to strike it down, but seemed almost willing to do it on a summary judgement basis. The only reason that that didn't happen is because the government was given an opportunity to respond. But the language was extremely harsh; he obviously had incredible contempt for what the NSA is doing. And the politics of this particular judge who is not only respected, but also an appointee of George W. Bush, a Republican. This just changes everything, this is the first time that this has really been before a court, and the Obama administration and the NSA got an F.
RT: Do you think Obama will go forward with the changes that would limit the NSA's spying capabilities - or at least make the agency more transparent?
TR: I think they are going to double down. They are going to defend the program in court. What they are proposing is essentially reforms without meaning. What they want is self-policing; they want data to reside with the phone companies. And we are only talking about one program - let's not forget there are dozens if not hundreds of these NSA surveillance programs. We are only talking specifically about the metadata program for Verizon, AT&T and one other company in the US. What they are going to do is to say that the metadata should continue to live at the various telecoms and what we'll do is we will ask for it whenever we need it. That's not going to pass the court muster, but that's what they want to do. I don't think the administration really understands how unpopular these NSA surveillance programs are or how disgusted most Americans of both political parties are with this program.
RT: Now Google and other internet companies are known to have been cooperating with the NSA. Are they just doing damage control now, acting outraged on behalf of their clients?
TR: It's very bad for business, especially for cloud computing. The EU is considering trying to develop its own alternative to the cloud that Google has helped spearhead. It's bad for business. The telecoms and the big internet companies aren't really on the side of the angels in all of this. The big telecoms, including Google and Apple that are supposedly so angry about what NSA is doing were cooperating at one point with the NSA. And now that they see that public opinion has turned against it they are opposed to it. It's been 12 years since 9/11 attacks and the US is no longer prepared to give up all of its privacy rights and civil liberties in exchange for a little bit of security.
RT: In London just a couple of hours ago MPs debated the UK's spying with The Guardian's editor in chief and the founder of Wikipedia. Are we just going in circles here, with endless debates with nothing really changing?
TR: I think there's going to be a tension between the reformists and the abolitionists. The abolitionists being the people. I've spoken to people of every political persuasion in the US from left to right, and everyone I know just wants the NSA to shut down completely. And the reformists are the government; they want to keep spying on Americans as much as possible. I think you've seen the similar process in the UK. I think the real tug of war is going to be between the people and the government, and when the media comes down we'll probably determine what happens in the end. We are going to see some reforms, I think there's going to be a lot more sweeping than the government would like.
RT: During that meeting, the Wikipedia founder said that unlimited technical capabilities give both countries the machinery to establish a police state. Is he being overdramatic?
TR: Absolutely not. That is absolutely true. The level of intrusion is astonishing. Every single text message, every single phone call, every email, every form of communication, even your video gaming activities are monitored by the NSA and other foreign intelligence agencies, and then of course the acronyms that nobody talks about like the DIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency here in the US. They mill everything that we are doing. It would be more accurate to say that they can know everything that we are doing. What they are doing is scooping everything up and storing that with the view that they can look at it later when they feel so inclined. Perhaps right now they are not using it against their political enemies, but it doesn't take much historical imagination to imagine that happening.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.