US President Barack Obama has issued an executive order, enabling the government to take over all private communications in the country under the pretext of ensuring national security.
Released on Friday, the controversial executive order entitled the “Assignment of National Security and Emergency Preparedness Communications Functions” allows federal agencies to take control of wired and wireless communications during situations they consider critical in order to reach anyone in the country.
The president claimed that by controlling private communications the executive branch would be able to “ensure national security, effectively manage emergencies and improve national resilience.”
Press TV has conducted an interview with human rights and international lawyer Paul Wolf to further elaborate on the issue.
The show also provides the opinions of two additional guests: Dave Lindorff, with Thiscantbehappening.com and also Gordon Duff, the senior editor at the Veterans Today.
What follows is an approximate transcription of the interview.
Maybe you can clarify this for us Paul Wolf, as the human rights international lawyer, in particular, there is a report that our correspondent gave which indicated that the US authorities have seized up to 1.3 million records of plain old Americans, this, through the telephone carriers, such as AT&T and Sprint, of which this is without the knowledge of the particular people that they targeted; which is called invasion of privacy by many of these advocacy groups.
There has been authority already of which they have entitled themselves to go after these records to the tune of 1.3 million of them this past year.
So what is this new executive order? Is it on top of this motion that has set them forward to obtaining private records of people which dictates where they are? Their text messages and of course their phone conversations?
Well Kaveh, I am not familiar with the 1.5 million records you referred to, but certainly the National Security Agency is able to tap into all the major transmission systems, whether they be cell phone communications, the old Ethernet connections, cable, any way that people using Internet, those connections, inevitably pass through things like satellites or tans-Atlantic cables, that allow the National Security Agency to intercept vast, vast amounts of information, much more than a million records and then whatever legal restraints are applied afterwards, in other words, if you have a right to be protected from an unlawful search of your communications that would be after it was already intercepted by the NSA [National Security Agency], I think that is how they view it anyway.
What confuses me about the new bill that we are talking about, is what exactly is the nature of the emergency that is designed to address, because you know that the internet was designed to be indestructible, it was designed back in, I believe, in 1970’s to survive a nuclear war with the Soviet Union.
So even if the major cities in the United States were destroyed in nuclear holocausts, somehow the Internet would still work, because there was [were] still some methods for computers to communicate with each other.
So we do not really have to worry about any adversary, even the Soviet Union in a nuclear attack, destroying the Internet and taking it down.
So what exactly is the threat that they are worried about? And I think that the introduction to your show, suggested one possible motive, would be actually to shut down the Internet, not to make sure that it is maintained for public service warnings, but to shut down the Internet and I would only look at that as an extremely paranoid view, whether it has to do with the Occupy Wall Street or some type of foreign threat.
We have never really had, in the whole history of the United States, any kind of law that would allow the government to completely shutdown communications.
So I think that it is unprecedented, I think it is really a power grab by the Obama administration and I think it should be met with some opposition and challenged and explained why do you need this power? What exactly is it that you are trying to do?
Paul Wolf, but what is interesting is, maybe it is a case by case basis, but we are looking at the civilian side of the government organizations, on the civilian side overlooking, some of these executive orders, but then some are handed over to military organizations.
What is the danger that, that poses when it falls under the military, so to speak, umbrella?
Well, of course the executive order that you mentioned does involve interagency committees including either the Department of Defense or some military agency, I forget which, the Department of Homeland Security is the one that is supposed to head up the program and that is a civilian agency, but there has always been a reluctance among the American people to have the military directly involved in domestic law enforcement and that is just a cultural bias we have, we would rather have a separate military and civilian system.
So I think that your previous guest also made a very important distinction, but I do want to add it my two cents, that this is an executive order, it is not a law.
This is simply, the Obama administration grabbing legal turf and saying, this is what we are going to do, this is what we think we can do.
Now, it may be possible to challenge these things in court but think of how difficult it would be, I have contemplated these kinds of cases.
If you have a person who says, I think that I was illegally put under surveillance by the government, how is that person going to prove that case in court? That is a virtually impossible case to prove and the person would be thrown out of the court immediately for bringing a claim without having evidence.
So they are actually difficult to challenge by an average person in court, congress could certainly pass a law limiting the president’s powers, but again it becomes complex as to what authority does the president have to enforce the law versus congress’ power to make the law.
So I would say that this is going beyond an enforcement type issue that president is really setting policy, he is determining that we are in more extreme state of danger than we were before this election cycle, so we are going to have tougher laws and he is doing it essentially by fiat.
So I think that some type of response is required, you know, it does not go into effect for thirty days. So I think that it is probably a good time for people to raise their objections and then whatever mechanism exists, whether it be congress or someone trying to challenge in court, I hope that, that is done.
Well, Paul Wolf, I am not a lawyer but I read this new executive order and the last line of the entry that I read, this order indicated that this cannot be challenged in a court of law, if I understood it correctly.
And Paul Wolf it is a good time to bring you in here. How can Americans stop? You mentioned that it is very hard. If they were to be, for any reason, prosecuted without them knowing that their, let us say, phone records have been accessed.
How can they stand up for their rights? What choices or options do they have?
Well, I have not thought of one, for an individual who believes that their conversations have been illegally monitored and I represent some very controversial people, so I am one of them who is concerned that my communications may be monitored but I can not prove it.
So I have no business being in court, if I went to a court, I would lose. I would say that really the only way to affect this situation is through the ordinary political process.
And I think that people who consider themselves to be liberals, who still support President Obama, have to really take a hard look at what is happening because Obama may be liberal on economic issues and domestic social issues, but he certainly is not liberal when it comes to security issues or foreign policy issues.
And I think that we have really been letting him get away with that as one of your other guests said, he is the most honest, the best guy to deal with, maybe he is the best choice that is out there, but that does not mean that we should let him get away with this because really things are getting worse every year and the freedoms that we have, are more and more restricted year after year after year and a continuous process that may have been started by George Bush or maybe was on going before then; but Obama has certainly made things worse and I think that people who call themselves liberals or progressives, have to really put their foot down and make sure that these issues are on their agenda as well and they will not just go for Obama because they do not like the Republicans.
I think that that is a big mistake. So we still have 30 days before this policy goes into effect, and I think that President Obama, he should be advised by people who support him, that they do not like this and he is going to lose some of their support I he goes ahead with it.