A lot has already been written about Obama’s remarks on friday on the huge surveillance program “PRISM”. There are many interesting aspects in this speech, I can’t cover all points. But I want to pick up some quotes and dig a little bit into his logics and wording. And I provide a link to an interesting article about Obama’s awesome rethorics and charisma.
Obama (via Gizmodo):
- “Every member of Congress has been briefed on this program.”
- “What you’ve got is two programs that were originally authorized by Congress and repeatedly authorized by Congress.”
- “These are programs that have been authorized by broad bipartisan majorities repeatedly since 2006.”
- “You can’t have 100-percent security and then have 100-percent privacy.”
- “I don’t welcome leaks, there’s a reason these programs are classified.”
- “There are some tradeoffs involved.”
- “Modest encroachments on privacy.”
- “Your duly elected representatives have been consistently informed on exactly what we’re doing.”
So just to be clear: It’s okay because we’ve known about it all along.
Four Things Which Striked Me:
1. Obama in the end legitimizes the program with the necessity to trade in privacy and personal freedom for “security”. I commented here to this new logic we obey to. A principle got economized and thus is now something we think about in cost-benefit terms. I also think, we strikingly blunt get showed how the “war on terror” more and more moves towards domestic “folks” (in the words of Obama). A big trend in the “war on terror”. Apparently the typical guy of this dangerous “folks” is believed to use an iPhone, Gmail-account and is texting & skyping constantly with his other terrorist folks ;-).
2. Another logic unveils – the one which says, “because you all knew it”, it is legitimized. In other words, because the public (or their representatives) were able to see what was going on but did not intervene, it was ok. That makes me hope we’ll never see Angela Merkel using this logic because it strikes me very much, how she consistently chooses her words very deliberately. Ex-Post she rarely lies and could (never did yet) claim it was obvious if you just would have been attentive. Just like in a Agatha Christie novel. Let me quickly digress here for an example: Check what Merkel said about the insurance deposit in 2008. She was never saying that the deposits were actually safe. In exact words she said:
„Wir sagen den Sparerinnen und Sparern, dass ihre Einlagen sicher sind.“
This was later turned into a “deposit insurance” by the media. In a 2010 Interview in the prominent journal “Spiegel”, Finance Minister Steinbrück admitted that it was all a big hoax (emphasis added):
SPIEGEL: Waren Sie sich in diesem Moment eigentlich aller Konsequenzen dieser Erklärung bewusst?
Steinbrück: Wir [Merkel and him] wussten, dass wir uns auf dünnem Eis bewegen. Um es deutlich zu sagen: Für eine solche Zusage fehlte uns eigentlich die Legitimation. Es gab keine Rechtsgrundlage und keinen parlamentarischen Rückhalt. Ich wundere mich bis zum heutigen Tag, dass die Parlamentarier hinterher nie gefragt haben: Um Gottes willen, was habt ihr da eigentlich gemacht?
3. When Obama was referring to automatically (unrestrained) access to content of people, he never forgot to say “US Citizens”. Which makes me wonder, if his statement isn’t valid for everybody else. E.g:
Now, with respect to the Internet and emails — this does not apply to U.S. citizens and it does not apply to people living in the United States.
[. . . ]listening to people’s phone calls, do not involve reading the emails of U.S. citizens [. . .]
In fact they really can spy unrestrictedly on non-US residents while they need to pass a FISA approval for US citizens. This PRISM program is recording tons of data of foreigners who use the services of Google, Apple, etc. How are they protected? After all, is PRISM rather a world surveillance program rather than restricted to the US? (via WP):
The court-approved program is focused on foreign communications traffic, which often flows through U.S. servers even when sent from one overseas location to another.
If then, how will international politics react to that? Quick guess: They won’t.
4. The UK already gets access to the above mentioned services via the PRISM program from the US. Which bears the question: Who else? Additionally I found it somewhat ironical towards the new anti-terror provision the UK government wants to get passed. The new provision wants access to the same services they already access through PRISM. In some sense it doesn’t really matter hence, what British parliament will vote – if “yes” it’s just an ex-post legitimization. The power already has moved elsewhere. On top, UK provision would even allow live-surveillance. Will the Brits share that as well with the Americans? How much does the average citizen then helps the FISA approval process which can be circumvented via the UK?
Besides – what is with other countries? What about the French, the Germans, the Swiss? Do they also have access to PRISM data and how does their legislation legitimize mass surveillance?
Obama’s Speeches: Seeing What You Want to See
Glen Greenwald on Obamas speech about the “war on terror” in TheGuardian. An extract of this interesting article I recommend and agree to:
His [Obama’s] most consequential speeches are shaped by their simultaneous affirmation of conflicting values and even antithetical beliefs, allowing listeners with irreconcilable positions to conclude that Obama agrees with them.
The highly touted speech Obama delivered last week on US terrorism policy was a master class in that technique. If one longed to hear that the end of the “war on terror” is imminent, there are several good passages that will be quite satisfactory. If one wanted to hear that the war will continue indefinitely, perhaps even in expanded form, one could easily have found that. And if one wanted to know that the president who has spent almost five years killing people in multiple countries around the world feels personal “anguish” and moral conflict as he does it, because these issues are so very complicated, this speech will be like a gourmet meal.
But whatever else is true, what should be beyond dispute at this point is that Obama’s speeches have very little to do with Obama’s actions, except to the extent that they often signal what he intends not to do. [. . .]
other than Merkel though:
As Esquire’s Tom Junod put it after the speech: “if the Lethal Presidency reminds us of anything, it’s that we should be a long way from judging this president on his rhetoric or his portrayal of himself as a moral actor.”
(emphasis added) – JAS