Privacy Report Card: State Secrets Earn Obama a Grade of "D" in Civil Liberties

It's sad how our right to privacy seems to be decreasing while the government's right to keep secrets seems to be growing. Privacy watchdog EPIC released the 2010 Privacy Report Card, giving the Obama Administration a "D" grade in Civil Liberties. State secrets...ssshhh!

It's grade card time and President Obama earned a big fat D as is doomed civil liberties, as in does have unchecked authority to kill you, and as in dangerous and overreaching state secrets arguments.

It's sad how our right to privacy seems to be decreasing while the government's right to keep secrets seems to be growing. EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center) released the 2010 Privacy Report Card (PDF) for the Obama Administration, giving Obama a "D" grade in Civil Liberties. Why? For the same reasons that the ACLU argues that the president does not have the unchecked authority to kill you, and EFF warns that the government is singing the same old state secrecy tune about wiretapping.

President Obama ran his candidacy on change, and restoring the civil liberties and human rights that we had lost in the War on Terror. As PogoWasRight wrote, "Change we can believe in" was not supposed to be a harbinger of change for the worse.

Jon Stewart collected some video clips (see video at end of article) to remind us that while running for President, Barack Obama promised to: (at 1:20) "Close down Guantánamo, restore habeas corpus, say no to rendition(s), say no to wireless wiretaps."...(1:44) "Part of my job as the next president is to break the fever of fear that has been exploited by this administration."...(3:22) "By giving suspects a chance, even one chance, to challenge the terms of their detention in court, we could solve this problems without harming our efforts in the War on Terror one bit."...(5:22) "We are going to lead by example, by maintaining the highest standards of civil liberties and human rights."...(5:32) "No more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient, that is not who we are....We will again set an example for the world that the law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers and that justice is not arbitrary."...(6:15) Whether it was the run up to the Iraq war or the revelation of secret programs, Americans often felt like part of the story had been unnecessarily held from them."...(7:08) "I know a little about whistle blowing and making sure those folks get protection."

If you watch Stewart's video at the end of this article, you will see that each and every one of these presidential promises (and more) have been broken. A politician breaking promises? Imagine that.

EPIC handed out this report card. When it comes to a grade in Civil Liberties, EPIC stated, "The Obama administration has aggressively asserted the 'state secrets' doctrine, expanded Fusion Centers and watch lists, and subjected all American air travelers to unconstitutional body searches in airports. Incredibly, the White House allowed the President's Civil Liberties and Privacy Oversight Board to languish. Even the Bush administration made this a priority."

The ACLU is fighting against targeted killing and death without due process. Due to state secrets privilege, if you even found out that you were targeted by the CIA to be killed, you couldn't even fight it in court because to mention state secrets jeopardizes national security. You see, the government keeps secret "kill lists," but the Obama administration says that it's a state secret who they plan to assassinate. Former Director of National Intelligence agreed that the government has a license to kill Americans that are secretly labeled terrorists. Since the Obama administration has asserted its authority to carry out "targeted killings" of U.S. citizens outside armed conflict zones, the ACLU is arguing that President Obama does not have unchecked authority to kill you.

The ACLU said, "targeting individuals for execution who are suspected of terrorism but have not been convicted or even charged - without oversight, judicial process, or disclosed standards for placement on kill lists - also poses the risk that the government will erroneously target the wrong people."

The state-secrets doctrine seems as out of control as does what is happening to privacy, civil liberties and human rights during the War on Terror. Just look at how many people in peace groups or activists that have wrongfully been put on watchlists or been labeled as a terrorist. Spying on free speech is at Cold War levels! How soon before speaking out for civil liberties, privacy, freedom is also considered low level terrorism? At the rate things are going, could people who are activists, who are considered "low level terrorist" start to be targeted? In 2009, research showed that 10 or more civilians die for every terrorist killed by drone missiles. If the "CIA's Predator drones targeting software was pirated" and faulty, so that it might "possibly miss its target by as much as 40 feet," could the government then say oops, the software steered it wrong and take out even more alleged enemies of the United States? Would that too be considered a "state secret?" That sounds close to a conspiracy theory, but so does this:

Media With Conscience reported on a dark secret that has been brought to light. Around 1948, when "U.S. officials were prosecuting Nazi officials for subjecting human beings to gruesome medical experimentation," U.S. federal officials committed syphilis experiments at Tuskegee and on unsuspecting prisoners in Guatemalan jails. "What U.S. officials did was bring prostitutes that they knew were infected by syphilis into Guatemalan jails to infect prisoners, so that U.S. officials would be able to study the effect that antibiotics had on the syphilis. Some of the prisoners, however, failed to contract syphilis from the prostitutes. No problem. U.S. officials simply used other ways to infect the men, methods that are too gruesome to describe here." Yet none of those people could have their day in court even if they wanted to because of state secret doctrine. In fact, prisoners or detainees who were tortured during the "war on terrorism" have had their torture case dismissed for fear of revealing state secrets.

EFF wrote that the state secrets privilege amounts to an immunity for government law-breaking. The "government has made the same dangerous and overreaching state secrets arguments in the domestic warrantless wiretapping cases." The court had dismissed the legality of the NSA's warrantless dragnet surveillance program "because so many Americans have had their communications and communications records illegally obtained by the government, no single person has legal 'standing' to challenge the ongoing program of government surveillance. In other words: if everyone is being spied on, no one can sue." EFF argued (PDF),"that ruling risks creating a perverse incentive for the government to violate the privacy rights of as many citizens as possible in order to avoid judicial review of its actions." The government says "the same thing it has been arguing for the past five years in every other warrantless wiretapping case: that any attempt by the courts to judge the legality of the alleged surveillance would violate the state secrets privilege and harm national security."

And now the government wants to wiretap the web. As was stated on Salon, "If the President has the power to order American citizens killed with no due process, and to do so in such complete secrecy that no courts can even review his decisions, then what doesn't he have the power to do?"

State secrets are just part of the reason the Obama Administration earned below average and a big fat D in Civil Liberties. D as in dammit, where does it end?

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