Sunday, June 30, 2013

Massive NSA spying and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Pact (TTIP)

Video report from Euronews, New NSA spy claims hit Germany as EU calls on Washington for explanations 06/30/2013

This could be one very good effect of the NSA spying revelations, to make it harder to get a deal closed on the US-EU Transatlantic Trade and Investment Pact (TTIP), a treaty currently being negotiated that is basically aimed at undercutting regulations on banks and other corporations, lowering incomes for most people and overriding existing consumer protection laws. (Claus Hecking and Stefan Schultz, Spying 'Out of Control': EU Official Questions Trade Negotiations Spiegel International 06/30/2013)

Maybe if corporations start realizing that the massive domestic surveillance programs could really start costing them money by torpedoing a treaty they want, some of them will start pushing politicians they, uh, sponsor, to put some functional privancy limits in place. Not that the TTIP would be any better because of that!

Of course, the Obama Administration and other supporters of the spectacularly wide-ranging might say this is more evidence of how Edward Snowden and news outlets that printed his and other revelations about the NSA spying program have hurt the national interests of the US.

Part of what is going on here, I say as someone who hasn't followed the news about "cyberwar" and cyber espionage in great detail, seems to be that the world is hashing out new standards for what is acceptable and unacceptable spying. Of course, all countries outlaw espionage, even for friendly countries. And all countries engage in it, including against friendly countries.

So alongside the laws that are often honored in the breach, there is an elaborate set of diplomatic protocols and side agreements about just how far one country will go in retaliating against another for routine espionage. And part of what we're seeing now is surely a shaking out of what those new informal practices and protocols will be in international law and foreign relations will be.

But as the EU's reaction shows, some European countries that are on very friendly terms with the United States think that the US stepped over that informal line. When it comes to dragnet spying, the formal, legal restrictions don't seem to concern the Obama Administration excessively.

Chris Strohm reports for Bloomberg Businessweek in A Privacy Board Was Supposed to Protect Americans From NSA Spies 06/27/2013 that the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board that is one of the "transparency" and oversight safeguards against the program being abused is about as useless as the Congress and the courts have been in exercising any oversight or imposing any limits on whatever domestic spying the President decides he wants to do.

So, we know the NSA and other federal and local agencies are conducted what collectively amounts to a gigantic domestic surveillance dragnet. The federal programs have what is apparently no effective oversight on what the Executive Branch is doing with the program. There is a secret court, the FISA court, that approves broad Executive requests and issues secret warrants but it's all secret. Citizens can't get any relief from the regular federal court system because the Administration argues no one has standing to take action unless they can prove they're being spied on and they can't prove that unless the Administration provides information on the programs and they don't because they're secret. There is nominal Congressional oversight, but none of them can talk publicly and explicitly about programs going on that they see are dangerous or illegal because the programs are secret. Even when Members of Congress think Administration officials are committing the federal felony of lying to Congress about the programs, they can't say publicly why they think a crime is being committed because it's all secret.

Supposedly these programs are helping the Administration catch terrorists all over the place. But they can't tell us anything convincing on who or how because it's secret. And the revelations about the program from Snowden's leaks are damaging the anti-terrorism effort badly. But they can't say how, either, because it's all secret. Except for the leaks of apparently classified information that say it's having some bad effects, leaks which aren't prosecuted by the Administration. Or officially verified. Because it's all secret.

The mainstream media, to the extent they don't try to ignore the programs altogether, are generally uninterested in serious investigative reporting on them - fortunately with a few exceptions. Since everything's secret, the public's information on what their government is doing with these vast surveillance programs, even on the broad outlines of the programs, is largely coming from whistleblowers who risk espionage charges, life in prison or indefinite exile abroad to make the information public. Even when the actions revealed may be illegal actions against American citizens. And the conventional wisdom among the Beltway Village reporters is more inclined to criticize the government for not having caught the leakers sooner than to push for more responsible reporting on the massive domestic spying programs.

I suppose if you think that Obama, and all of the folks at the Pentagon, the CIA, the FBI, and all of the 1.4 million holders of security clearances, many of them working at private contractors like Edward Snowden was, will always be honest and responsible in their acquisition and use of the information, then it's all great. Even though anonymous pro-Administration sources are telling the press that it will take the government months yet to figure out what all Snowden may have taken.

I'm certainly not convinced.

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