Even as evidence has mounted that U.S. President Barack Obama may be promoting the growth of a strong surveillance state on his watch, the media appeared to be increasingly under siege from a Department of Justice that is vigorously pursuing those involved in leaking classified data.
The revelation on the Verizon telecom company has raised two broad sets of questions: firstly, who was being spied upon and why, and second, how the Obama administration’s strategy is likely to evolve in this context.
Regarding the first issue, officials have pointed out that only “telephony metadata” was included in the surveillance authorisation order supplied to law enforcement by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court, and this data is the “envelope” and not an actual recording of phone conversations.
However as the Guardian has argued, U.S. law enforcement collected this data for millions of individuals – and will continue to collect it until July 19 — “indiscriminately and in bulk — regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.”
Also the data collected under the order, which relies on a George W. Bush-era law pertaining to the so-called “business records” provision of the Patriot Act, 50 USC section 1861, will permit government officials to build up a detailed profile of an individual in terms of who they spoke to, when, and for how long, their likely social networks and personal habits.
War on Leaks
On the matter of the Obama White House’s so-called “War on Leaks,” the signs may be ominous for U.S. media as a report by NBC News justice correspondent Pete Williams, who recently interviewed U.S. Attorney-General Eric Holder, said “definitely there will be a leak investigation,” on the NSA-spying story.
The government had also earlier signalled its determination to press on with both its surveillance of the media and its crackdown on leakers when it refused to back down from those who challenged its covert monitoring of the Associated Press agency’s telephone records.
Gary Pruitt, President of AP, outlined in this regard how even metadata monitoring could lead to serious intrusions, when he said, “These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP, provide a road map to AP’s newsgathering operations, and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know.”