Guest Editorial: Selective outrage at snooping
The U.S. has been caught spying on foreign heads of state — again. And just as with the tapping of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone, revealed in 2013 by the Edward Snowden documents, the target was the leader of a supposed ally: in this case, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Despite President Barack Obama’s promise two years ago to limit spying on heads of state of friendly nations, a Wall Street Journal report last week described National Security Agency spying on Netanyahu and other Israeli officials while the U.S. was negotiating a nuclear arms agreement with Iran and trying to sell the resultant agreement to a fairly skeptical Congress.
In the process of this surveillance, the NSA scooped up private conversations between Israeli officials and members of Congress and American-Jewish groups. The prospect of having their private communications spied on rankled some in Congress, and congressional leaders quickly called for an inquiry into the matter. It is unfortunate that they were not so motivated to protect privacy from prying government eyes when they slipped provisions of a controversial “cybersecurity” bill — that even the Department of Homeland Security said “raises privacy and civil liberties concerns” and “could sweep away important privacy protections” — into the recent omnibus spending bill at the last moment and passed it without any real debate.
Similarly, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., was outraged in 2014 when the Central Intelligence Agency spied on Senate computers during an investigation of Bush-era prisoner interrogation and detention practices. She loudly proclaimed that the CIA’s surveillance was an unconstitutional violation of the Fourth Amendment and federal law, yet she enthusiastically supported the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records.
“It’s clear the CIA was trying to play ‘keep away’ with documents relevant to an investigation by their overseers in Congress, and that’s a serious constitutional concern,” Snowden told NBC News at the time. “But it’s equally, if not more, concerning that we’re seeing another ‘Merkel Effect,’ where an elected official does not care at all that the rights of millions of ordinary citizens are violated by our spies, but suddenly it’s a scandal when a politician finds out the same thing happens to them.”
It is this sort of hypocrisy that rightly drives citizens crazy. When government officials get away with things that would land an ordinary citizen in prison, when Congress exempts itself from laws like the Affordable Care Act, when politicians bristle at intrusive and unconstitutional government spying when they are the targets but vote to expand the government’s powers to do the same to the citizens they are supposed to represent, it puts the lie to the notion that the government is “of the people, by the people, for the people.”