Edward Snowden famously noted that his greatest fear regarding his revelations is that “nothing will change.”
But on March 24, almost a year after Snowden’s first interview, President Obama spoke about proposing legislation to Congress which would end the NSA’s bulk collection of American phone records. Although appearing progressive on its face, the politics at play behind Obama’s NSA reforms deserve further investigation.
First, Snowden has indefinitely shifted the political discourse regarding national security. Obama now advocating to reform the NSA program — which he vehemently defended over the past year — is an indication to the legitimacy behind Snowden’s acts.
Norman Solomon, co-founder of the progressive advocacy group RootsAction.org, mentioned that the credibility of the White House has gone through the floor, while the credibility of Snowden continues to ascend.
However, a politically conscious Obama administration recognizes the political capital it could gain from endorsing these reforms. Plus, in the event that Congress blocks the legislation, Obama can put the blame on them.
Guantanamo Bay is a prime example of Obama playing politics with a controversial U.S. national security program. Obama constantly promised to terminate Guantanamo Bay, but his promises failed to permeate. Congress continuously blocks legislation that would make closing Guantanamo faster and easier which allows Obama to pass the blame onto them.
It’s worth questioning the veracity of the proposed reforms because they only address phone metadata — they exempt other popular forms of communication like email, Skype, texts, and GPS. The reforms also fail to mention sharing information among foreign governments and spy agencies, such as the Five Eyes.
Five Eyes is an alliance among spy agencies from the U.S., UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada and has been known to spy on citizens from each nation involved to circumvent domestic laws.
Without taking steps to reform the legality of governments gaining information on their citizens from foreign governments, implementing domestic laws would do anything about ongoing security concerns.
Although there are numerous shortcomings, initiating reform is the primary step in fostering change, so they are not entirely futile. However, future NSA reform must address the greater issues involving transparency, Internet security, accountability, and national sovereignty for them to have any tangible impact.
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