Every since Edward Snowden disclosed numerous government programs which were collecting the metadata of Americans, there has been a national conversation about surveilance, privacy, national security, and the rule of law. Only now, and under pressure from a public lack of confidence, are proposals being put forth that would curb these practices. But are these real reforms to the surveillance state or just another spin and PR job on the public to manage appearances of the operations without actually substantively changing them?
The Administration has tireless argued that with all the surveillance programs, Members of Congress were briefed and federal judges had overseen the operation. But in today's Washington Post, Peter Wallsten detailed some of the obstacles to lawmakers actually being able to gain real understanding enough to provide real oversight to surveillance programs. Reforms are in the works, in response to pressure from a small but bipartisan group of lawmakers and from the public. But one wonders about the real motive for these "reforms". Wallsten for example writes that Senator Feinstin (D-CA) has called for a "major review" of these programs and that :
A similar effort is being planned by the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan. The reviews are geared toward increasing public confidence in programs that remain fully supported by the committees — and are not designed to end the bulk collection." (emphasis added)
So the goal seems to be public relations and addressing the perception problem rather than curtailing an overreaching surveillance apparatus.
Similarly, one proposal to increase confidence in the FISA Court is to now have an adversarial view presented along with the argument of the government. I suppose it's better than the status quo, but as I and others have argued, the problem is the composition of the FISA Court, specifically that the Chief Justice alone picks all the members. Again, the motivation of presenting an adversarial view in the FISA court seems only to be cosmetic, addressing the symptom and not the root problem.
One can hope that more substantive reforms will be forthcoming, but for now, the "major reviews" and FISA Court "reforms" seem like featherweight responses to serious problems.