NSA Reform: Obama Promises, “If You Like Your Privacy, You Can Keep Your Privacy”

With people admitting (or boasting?) that they want to kill Edward Snowden (and that they fantasize about doing so), President Obama’s NSA speech seemed relatively mild.

Given the unique power of the state, it is not enough for leaders to say: “Trust us, we won’t abuse the data we collect.”  For history has too many examples when that trust has been breached.  Our system of government is built on the premise that our liberty cannot depend on the good intentions of those in power; it depends on the law to constrain those in power.

That’s pretty interesting coming from a man who, only last May, proclaimed to students:

Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems. Some of these same voices also do their best to gum up the works. They’ll warn that tyranny always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave, and creative, and unique experiment in self-rule is somehow just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.

The two statements don’t seem completely impossible to reconcile. After all, Obama drastically exaggerated the message of the “voices” he wants us to “reject.” But at the same time his ultimate rationale is that we never need to fear that our government could work against us because we are somehow identical:  “our brave, and creative, and unique experiment in self-rule.” That rationale doesn’t make sense according to Obama’s recent, and I think much better, statement. Now it isn’t “our… self-rule.” Rather, it is “the unique power of the state”—a separate entity—that has leaders who need to be held accountable and who cannot be trusted otherwise.

Sadly, President Obama doesn’t seem to be aware of the implications of his own, wiser, words. As the Reason Blog pointed out:

However, it does not appear that the president really believes or understands his own point. In fact, many prominent civil libertarian organizations do not think that the president’s proposed reforms are anywhere close to being sufficient “to constrain those in power.”

Ultimately, I think the earlier statement, in which it is somehow wrong to question “our brave, and creative, and unique experiment in self-rule,” is the one that he truly believes.