Open Buddha

Open Source Buddhism, Technology, and Geekery
Bay Area, California

Disappointed in Obama and our Government (Again)


As people probably know at this point, the United States senate passed the bill today overhauling the surveillance laws in this country. The vote was 69 to 28, which sends it to the White House to be put into law. This bill gave the telephone companies immunity in the illegal wiretapping they had done at the behest of President Bush. While this bill was expected to be close, I had hoped that it wouldn’t pass and that the telcos wouldn’t be given immunity for spying on Americans, spying which they knew was illegal at the time.

One of the really disappointing aspects of this, to me, is that Obama voted to pass this legislation. This ends any thoughts on my part that he has the spine to make a stand against both abuses of presidential power but also against government actions that go against core principles of the United States. Since he is very likely to be president, his support for Bush’s unchecked executive power does not bode well for what Obama may feel empowered to do in office. As an annoying twist, Hilary Clinton voted against the bill. Of course, all of the Republicans that bothered to vote supported the bill (McCain didn’t bother to attend and vote, which says something about his stance on these things as well). Of course, Dianne Feinstein, the eternal betrayer here in California, voted in support of this bill as well. I expected that she would though. Want to know how your senator voted? Check here for the votes.

Senator Feingold states:

"I sit on the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, and I am one of the few members of this body who has been fully briefed on the warrantless wiretapping program. And, based on what I know, I can promise that if more information is declassified about the program in the future, as is likely to happen either due to the Inspector General report, the election of a new President, or simply the passage of time, members of this body will regret that we passed this legislation. I am also familiar with the collection activities that have been conducted under the Protect America Act and will continue under this bill. I invite any of my colleagues who wish to know more about those activities to come speak to me in a classified setting. Publicly, all I can say is that I have serious concerns about how those activities may have impacted the civil liberties of Americans. If we grant these new powers to the government and the effects become known to the American people, we will realize what a mistake it was, of that I am sure."

So, according to Obama, there are circumstances where illegally spying on Americans is simply acceptable on the say-so of the president of the United States, even when it violates the law.

For those of who work in technology and for anyone on the Internet, realize that this affects not only phone calls. As the Los Angeles Times mentions this also affects e-mail communication between U.S. citizens and anyone outside the United States that the U.S. government decides to monitor. Do you encrypt your e-mail? I doubt it. Do you talk to people outside the United States by e-mail (something the FBI asked me once, see here and here)? If so, your e-mail may be sitting in a Federal database somewhere until the end of time. (This article is interesting background on what our government can do as well…)

I’ve tried switching to encrypted e-mail before but since most of my correspondents don’t want to bother (and, hell, my wife uses Google’s mail so they get a copy of everything anyway), it is basically impossible to implement for any real use. I wish I could convince more people to encrypt their mail end to end.

This sort of crap is exactly why I am a member of the EFF and the ACLU but you have to wonder if it does any good.

This whole thing just pisses me off and makes me feel further disenchanted with our system of government. I would like to think that we can salvage our nation, politically, but it becomes clearer and clearer over time that our entire government has passed it’s “sell by” date, probably four or so decades ago. (Clearly it was bought by someone as well, at this point.)

Updated: Here is an interesting news report from the day before the bill was passed: