Barack Obama, Civil Libertarian

The terrorist surveillance program initiated by the Bush administration was limited to international communications that involved a terrorist on at least one end. As such, as I argued here, it was well within the President’s constitutional powers as delineated by the federal courts. Nevertheless, disclosure of the program drew howls of protest from the Left. For some reason, however, the Obama administration’s continuation of the program has drawn no similar protests.

Now we have the Cybersecurity Act of 2009, which goes far beyond anything ever contemplated by the Bush administration. The most controversial provisions are Sec. 18 (2), which gives the President authority to shut down all or any portions of the internet that he may designate as “critical infrastructure information systems and networks,” and Sec. 14 (b)(1), which gives the Secretary of Commerce access to “all relevant data concerning such networks without regard to any provision of law, regulation, rule, or policy restricting such access.” Critics have interpreted this clause as giving the Secretary the ability to access, without any sort of search warrant, any internet communication. That looks like a reasonable interpretation, as long as the President has designated the network “critical infrastructure,” which he has unfettered (and unguided) discretion to do.

Yesterday’s Examiner editorialized against the Act:

Civilian libertarians were apoplectic over former President George W. Bush’s “warrantless wiretap” program, which sought to monitor communications from terrorist networks overseas. So why are they not screaming bloody murder now that President Barack Obama appears slated to receive unprecedented power to monitor all Internet traffic without a warrant and to even shut the system down completely on the pretext of national security? The Cybersecurity Act of 2009 – introduced by Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-WV, and cosponsor Olympia Snowe, R-ME – bypasses all existing privacy laws and allows White House political operatives to tap into any online communication without a warrant, including banking, medical, and business records and personal e-mail conversations. This amounts to warrantless wiretaps on steroids, directed at U.S. citizens instead of foreign terrorists.

What is most striking to me is how little actual concern for civil liberties there appears to be on the Left. Liberals are happy to use civil liberties concerns (like budget deficits) as clubs to bludgeon Republicans, whether justified or not. But anxiety about civil liberties appears to dissipate quickly when there is no political advantage to be gained.

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