The Century Foundation Rallies Against "Turnkey Tyranny" With Presidential Transition

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Century Foundation Rallies Against "Turnkey Tyranny" With Presidential Transition

For six years—from 2006 to 2013—I worked inside the intelligence community to enforce laws and policies that protect privacy and civil liberties. My tenure spanned the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The surveillance policies of both administrations enlarged the powers of the National Security Agency (NSA) and other intelligence agencies and put considerable strain on privacy.

Edward Snowden’s disclosures of mass surveillance programs, beginning in 2013, led to a course correction in the late Obama years. Changes included a substantial transparency drive, limits on signals intelligence collection that apply to foreigners, and reforms to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that include the end of bulk collection of metadata under that law. I have argued that the Snowden reforms forced the NSA to become “more transparent, more accountable, more protective of privacy—and more effective.”

Still, we delude ourselves if we think they have made the NSA tyrant-proof. In Snowden’s first interview from Hong Kong, warned against “turnkey tyranny.” One day, he said, “a new leader will be elected” and “they’ll find the switch.” With Donald Trump’s election, it is important that this warning not be proved prophetic. While the United States has a robust system of intelligence oversight—the strongest in the world—it still largely depends on the good faith of Executive Branch officials...


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