Electronic Frontier Foundation: The Three Pillars of Government Trust Have Fallen


The Electronic Frontier Foundation has reacted to Thursday’s Washington Post story on the National Security Agency’s eye-opening audit, which dismantled the fallacy that there are adequate oversight mechanisms built into the government’s program of domestic spying, with a timely column that explains just how far America’s leadership has fallen in abusing the public trust. Act now to join the growing number of Americans demanding an end to unConstitutional NSA spying.


By Cindy Cohn and Mark M. Jaycox

The Electronic Frontier Foundation

With each recent revelation about the NSA’s spying programs government officials have tried to reassure the American people that all three branches of government—the Executive branch, the Judiciary branch, and the Congress—knowingly approved these programs and exercised rigorous oversight over them. President Obama recited this talking point just last week, saying: “as President, I’ve taken steps to make sure they have strong oversight by all three branches of government and clear safeguards to prevent abuse and protect the rights of the American people.”  With these three pillars of oversight in place, the argument goes, how could the activities possibly be illegal or invasive of our privacy?

Today, the Washington Post confirmed that two of those oversight pillars—the Executive branch and the court overseeing the spying, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA court)—don’t really exist. The third pillar came down slowly over the last few weeks, with Congressional revelations about the limitations on its oversight, including what Representative Sensennbrenner called “rope a dope” classified briefings. With this, the house of government trust has fallen, and it’s time to act. Join the over 500,000 people demanding an end to the unconstitutional NSA spying.

First, the Executive. After a review of internal NSA audits of the spying programs provided by Edward Snowden, the Post lays out—in stark detail—that the claims of oversight inside the Executive Branch are empty. The article reveals that an internal NSA audit not shown to Congress, the President, or the FISA Court detailed thousands of violations where the NSA collected, stored, and accessed American’s communications content and other information. In one story, NSA analysts searched for all communications containing the Swedish manufacturer Ericsson and “radio” or “radar.” What’s worse: the thousands of violations only include the NSA’s main office in Maryland—not the other—potentially hundreds—of other NSA offices across the country. And even more importantly, the documents published by the Post reveal violations increasing every year. The news reports and documents are in direct contrast to the repeated assertions by President Obama (video), General James Clapper (video), and General Keith Alexander (video) that the US government does not listen to or look at Americans’ phone calls or emails. So much for official pronouncements that oversight by the Executive was “extensive” and “robust.

Second, the FISA Court. The Post presents a second article in which the Chief Judge of the FISA Court admits that the court is unable to act as a watchdog or stop the NSA’s abuses: “The FISC is forced to rely upon the accuracy of the information that is provided to the Court,” its chief, US District Judge Reggie B. Walton, said in a written statement. “The FISC does not have the capacity to investigate issues of noncompliance.”  Civil liberties and privacy advocates have long said that the FISA Court is a rubber stamp when it comes to the spying, but this is worse—this is the Court admitting that it cannot conduct the oversight the President and others have claimed it is doing. So much for claims by officials from the White House (video), NSA, DOJ, and Intelligence Committee members of Congress that the FISA Court is another strong pillar of oversight.

Third, the Congress. Last week, Representative Sensenbrenner complained that “the practice of classified briefings are a ‘rope-a-dope operation’ in which lawmakers are given information and then forbidden from speaking out about it.” Members of Congress who do not serve on the Intelligence Committees in the both the House and Senate have had difficulty in obtaining documents about the NSA spying. Last week, it was even uncovered that the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Mike Rogers, failed to provide freshmen members of Congress vital documents about the NSA’s activities during a key vote to reapprove the spying. Senators Wyden and Udall have been desperately trying to tell the American people what is going on, but this year the House Intelligence committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight has not met once and the Senate Intelligence committee has met publicly only twice.

One, two, three pillars of government, all cited repeatedly as the justification for our trust and all now obviously nonexistent or failing miserably. It’s no surprise Americans are turning against the government’s explanations.

The pattern is now clear and it’s getting old. With each new revelation the government comes out with a new story for why things are really just fine, only to have that assertion demolished by the next revelation. It’s time for those in government who want to rebuild the trust of the American people and others all over the world to come clean and take some actual steps to rein in the NSA. And if they don’t, the American people and the public, adversarial courts, must force change upon it.

We still think the first step ought to be a truly independent investigatory body that is assigned to look into the unconstitutional spying. It must be empowered to search, read and compel documents and testimony, must be required to give a public report that only redacts sensitive operational details, and must suggest specific legislation and regulatory changes to fix the problem—something like the Church Committee or maybe even the 9/11 Commission. The President made a mockery of this idea recently, by initially handing control of the “independent” investigation he announced in his press conference to the man who most famously lied to Congress and the American people about the spying, the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

The three pillars of American trust have fallen. It’s time to get a full reckoning and build a new house from the wreckage, but it has to start with some honesty.

Personal Liberty

Electronic Frontier Foundation

From the Internet to the iPod, technologies are transforming our society and empowering us as speakers, citizens, creators, and consumers. When our freedoms in the networked world come under attack, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is the first line of defense. EFF broke new ground when it was founded in 1990—well before the Internet was on most people's radar—and continues to confront cutting-edge issues defending free speech, privacy, innovation, and consumer rights today. From the beginning, EFF has championed the public interest in every critical battle affecting digital rights. https://www.eff.org/

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  • rhcrest

    There is one basic fallacy in this article. It assumes that people should trust in the gov’t as long as the gov’t is behaving. People should NEVER trust the gov’t. Period. End of story. Gov’t is a necessary evil and it should never be trusted and always treated with a suspicious eye. Otherwise we end up with exactly the situation we have now. Gov’t is like a child that always has to be minded and can never be left alone and always needs adult supervision otherwise it will just run wild as we can plainly see.

    • Vis Fac

      People shouldn’t trust the media either. The media was at one time the watcher of the government. Today the media is a conglomerate of corporate greed owned/partnered by those in government.

      The government grants “special status” to these corporate media moguls in exchange for favorable reporting a kind of synergy one could only dream of. Bankers Media and Government one huge corporation wanting complete control of not only America but the world.

      It is now time for David to load up the sling and defeat Goliath (Corporate greed and control) and retake OUR government. What would happen if everyone were to just say NO! Think about the power of unity.

      The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is that Good Men Do Nothing–Edmund Burke

      A republic is defined as a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president…

      Our republic no longer exists because we have an omnipotent self centered clown in the Oval office who is as unconstitutional as anyone can be. Anyone thinking we still live in a republic had best take notice of what OUR elected officials are doing WITHOUT OUR consent. Our republic no longer exists because the people no longer have power!

      …A democracy can best be described as two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for lunch with a well armed sheep contesting the vote! This too shall be a fond memory for our rubber stamp liberally controlled congress is eagerly waiting to disarm us.

      Libertas inaestimabilis res est


  • Not Really Trump

    The individual people involved in these operations have paid to lie and confuse the truth. They have absolutely NO reason to cooperate with ANY investigation and it appears whistle blowers are rare. The only solution I see is to start defunding as many of these little “kingdoms” as possible and find some police to arrest the ones that have been exposed as criminal. It seems too many are corrupt.

  • Blank Reg

    If government is like a child that has to be minded and never left alone and needs adult supervision, why would we trust it with any authority whatsoever? And especially, would you trust a small child with the proper use of an automatic weapon? Or the nuclear trigger? Puh-leeze…BAD analogy!

    Gov’t is not a “necessary evil”, and as soon as we rid ourselves of that illusion, the sooner we will regain our liberties. Gov’t is nothing more than a fast-talking armed criminal gang, who tries to convince you their “services” (paid for at gunpoint) are “protecting” you from other criminal gangs. It’s an institutional monopoly of violence. It’s how we’ve been doing things for 6000 years, and it’s time that stopped.

    • Debbie Hogan Tate

      And what are your suggestions for stopping it? We keep presenting petitions, call all our Reps, Senators and Congresspeople and they do nothing. They have been presented with the articles of impeachment for his violations and they do nothing! His birth certificate and draft card has also been proven to be fraudulent by the same firm Obama himself uses to check documents. And they still do nothing!! Suggestions please!

  • US Army (retired)

    He who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truths without the world’s believing him. This falsehood of tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good dispositions. — Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Peter Carr (19 August 1785)

    “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.” — George Washington

    “However political parties may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion. — George Washington, Farewell Address, Sep. 17, 1796

  • Stuart Shepherd

    Simple. abolish the NSA altogether and the “Patriot act”‘s unconstitutional provisions for its’ activities and rely on traditional, MORE EFFECTIVE, intelligence gathering for terrorism surveillance and STOP LETTING MUSLIMS INTO THE COUNTRY!!! Franklin’s “Those that would give up (the most precious gift we have and any society or nation in the history of civilization has ever had- brilliantly and spiritually enscribed) LIBERTY for a little bit of security DESERVE (and will get!) NEITHER” These activities are entirely predictable, because power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely and if someone or some government has the CAPACITY to use a technology or is given an opening legally THEY WILL DO IT!! It will never end- period. Orwell’s vision will seem like a utopian dream compared to what we’re in for in the future! AND, we are actually LESS secure with this false sense that mindless technology can just do the job for us without us using our wits and ingenuity, within constitutional bounds, IN PROPORTION TO THE THREAT (like the Israelis do!). There is no such thing as perfect security, but we have LESS of it (security) by giving these narcissistic sociopaths (oops, I meant our government) powers beyond those enscribed in the constitution. Even one crack in the foundation (the constitution) is very dangerous- we have tons and tons of them at this point! Maybe we should just wait for the whole thing to collapse or our enemies to destroy us (from within and without) and start all over? What is the answer? At this point we’d have to form a raggedy army under a modern day George Washington, kneel and pray at the banks of the Potomac, and storm the whole mess of DC, his namesake! AND, guess what, Washington used brilliant intelligence (without the NSA!) to do so- in the Battle of Trenton and many others.

    Oh well- nothing lasts forever, and it certainly looks like that is true of the US. The prospects for the entire world are dim without the type of moral leadership the US provided (past tense). But then again, weren’t there “the Dark Ages” for centuries after the fall of Rome and before the Renaissance?

    • Debbie Hogan Tate

      Very well said! Thank you!

  • bob

    Hey Stuart, I don’t know much about the Muslims, but I have to agree with the rest of what you said.

  • KG

    The problem here is the incredible partisan nature of the argument. Republicans want to lat the blame on Democrats and Democrats want to lay blame on the Republicans. And the truth is….they are both at fault. Many so-called Patriots will want to blame our current president. That’s fine as long as you acknowledge that the main apparatus behind this entire wizards curtain was the fear that was produced after 9/11. And the FACT that republicans saw this tragedy as an opportunity to grab and consolidate political power. Americans, by nature, seem to be cynical and skeptical about Government. But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

  • dan

    honesty is in short supply since the educrats have instilled situational ethics
    into the curriculum (there is no right or wrong so long as we all FEEEEL good about ourselves) and political correctness replaces common sense.

  • Bigbucket

    I run a small Buisness that does about 6 million in revenues. After expenses including insurance I pay for my employees and taxes there is nothing left. All I do is pay the bills. I have it better than a great % of Americans. I read the paper, watch the news and try to gain as much knowledge as I can. I know there are millions of people whom have forgotten more than i will ever know about politics. I read hundreds of articles about the IRS to the trillions in debt and everything in between. These crooks that we have running this country are the most corrupt and way less than capable of doing the job that needs to be done. The comments are all the same. They are a bunch of lying corrupt and just plain dumbasses that can’t fix anything except their wallet. I agree 100 % with all the americans who are sick of the system and these people. Maybe a little long winded to get to the point. Here it is , what can I as one person do my share to make a difference. There are a lot of bitching and winning but there has to be some intelligent people who must have a strategy or plan to get these people put out , impeached or a way to get them to do what they were elected to do. I admit I don’t have the answers. I am willing to listen to anyone who knows what we need to do. Please give some advise what individuals can do. I hope the answer Is not we just screwed. I will be waiting to hear what you have to say. Thank you.

    • Adrien Nash

      You’ll be interested in Mark Levine’s new book about restoring constitutional rule of law, and how there’s 11 things we can do to effect serious change, in the form of constitutional amendments that could make a big difference. Without amending the Constitution, states and counties and even cities can pass laws nullifying federal mandates that are unconstitutional. Nullification was used to ignore and block the federal law mandating the return of escaped slaves. The whole South was up in arms over federal law being ignored by the northern States. We need to learn from their solution to the tyranny from Washington and its ever-increasing defiance of the Constitution.

    • William James Ward

      Pray, find a conservative group, join and recognize that the
      power of the people is enormous, learn to say no to
      Government of the swine, for the swine and by the swine.

  • William James Ward

    The correction to government out of control will take place when
    American Patriots understand that they must take action to protect
    their homes, families and by extension the Nation………..William

  • Quester55

    HOW many Acts of,” Misdirection “, Does Obama have to Commit, Before You Sleeping Masses of Nay-Sayer’s, Wake up to the FACT that your being Manipulated into Turning your Eyes on a Minor Thing?
    The N.A.S. Has been doing their Spying thing for well over 60 years, Without so much as a Peep out of any of you.

    With your Attention Focused only on them, Obama can Work his Evil, going Unchallenged!

    The Sad thing is, YOU ALL Don’t really seem to give a Dam!!

  • Michael Shreve

    The Framers did NOT trust government, why SHOULD we. The framers tried to LIMIT the scope of government. It took a long time, but CLEARLY they failed. Government TYRANNY is omnipresent and the U.S. Constitution is proven laughably ineffectual.

  • jim_wright

    This is the most corrupt executive administration and the weakest congress in my lifetime. This all starts with the lack of respect for basic constitutional law by Mr. Obama supported by Pelosi and Reid in-order to get the Democrats back in power. This problem has continued since because our representative in both the house and senate are weak and too concerned about their “careers” to actually do their jobs by representing us and being the check on the powers of the executive branch. We need a complete change in congress and the administration.

  • Freespirit

    COMPROMISE will NEVER do! Label GMO’s even though they are poisons whereas individuals would be Jailed if they did what Monsanto does;Reign in the NSA inspite of the fact that if Americans would MIND their own business instead of violating countries all over the world and support a TRUE FREE MARKET ,they wouldn’t need an NSA ; Audit the Fed- another compromise. NO the FED is a CRIMINAL GANG of BANKSTERS-CLOSE it.

    ABSOLUTES my American friends- BAN GMOS and charge the companies; DESTROY the NSA and charge the perps who run it ;CLOSE the FED and charge the directors with FRAUD and THEFT…….PERIOD!!!

  • Vash the Stampede

    To many people think what the NSA is doing is fine because they have nothing to hide. They do not realize that privacy is not the only thing lost. You lose Due Process for one thing.