Thomas R. Eddlem
August 11, 2013
In his August 9 press conference, President Obama seems to have paved the way for a government admission that the NSA is recording the telephone calls of millions of Americans. While not being explicit, the president pointedly didn’t deny that the NSA was collecting the audio and transcripts of the phone calls. And he maintained that the NSA needed to collect the “haystack” to find the terrorist needle among us.
In the press conference, Obama expressed frustration at how the London Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald and others in the media have gradually reported information from Edward Snowden about NSA surveillance of Americans’ private Internet and telephone traffic. “What I’m going to be pushing the IC [Intelligence Community] to do,” he said, “is rather than have a trunk come out here and leg come out there and a tail come out there, let’s just put the whole elephant out there so people know exactly what they’re looking at.”
President Obama may have revealed the elephant with his lawyer’s dodge of a press conference. He pointedly didn’t deny that the NSA was collecting Americans’ phone call audio. “As I’ve said, this program is an important tool in our effort to disrupt terrorist plots. And it does not allow the government to listen to any phone calls without a warrant.”
The key words above are “listen to.” Notice that Obama didn’t say the NSA wasn’t seizing the audio from Americans’ phone calls and storing it in central data-centers, or even searching through computer-generated transcripts of the conversations. Intelligence officials have continuously stressed the difference between gathering the data into a database and searching through the data. Gathering any kind of “third party” data into a central database, Obama administration lawyers claim, does not violate a “reasonable expectation of privacy” on the part of the American people. It is only searching through that data that is a search in the context of the Fourth Amendment, the false administration narrative asserts. (The Fourth Amendment includes a prohibition on the “seizure” of documents without warrants and probable cause, in addition to the requirement for warrants and probable cause to accompany searches.)