The Article: Civil liberties: American freedom on the line in The Guardian.
The Text: A few months before he was first elected president in 2008, Barack Obama made a calculation that dismayed many of his ardent supporters but which he judged essential to maintain his drive to the White House. By backing President Bush’s bill granting the US government wide new surveillance powers – including legal immunity for telecoms companies which had co-operated with the Bush administration’s post-9/11 programme of wiretapping without warrants – Mr Obama stepped back from an issue that had initially helped to define his candidacy but was now judged to threaten his national security credentials. It was a big call. Even so, it seems unlikely that either supporters or critics, or even Mr Obama himself, ever believed that five years later a re-elected President Obama would oversee an administration that stands accused of routinely snooping into the phone records of millions of Americans.
Yet that is the situation at the heart of the Guardian’s exclusive story this week that America’s immense National Security Agency is doing just this on Mr Obama’s watch. The revelation that a secret order, issued by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, requires one of the largest telecoms providers in the US to provide a daily diet of millions of US phone records to the FBI, poses Americans with a major civil liberties challenge. Under the terms of the order, everything about every call made during a three month period – excepting only the calls’ actual contents – is offered up to the bureau and the NSA on a gargantuan routine basis. It seems improbable that the order revealed yesterday is the only one of its kind. So the assumption has to be that this is the new normality of American state surveillance. The special courts set up to monitor and approve industrial data-harvesting appear to provide little check on the scale of the activity.