With revelations that the federal government has been collecting data on phone calls and Internet usage, some have questioned whether President Barack Obama has broken promises he made in the 2008 campaign.
YouTube videos have popped up, juxtaposing speeches Obama made as a candidate in 2008 with his more recent argument that trade-offs must be made to protect the American people. Some see this as a reversal in his positions. So we went back and looked at promises tracked in our Obameter and other coverage of the 2008 election to see where Obama stood on the spectrum of security and privacy.
In the years leading up to the 2008 campaign and in the early stages of the campaign itself, Obama regularly emphasized the importance of civil liberties and the sanctity of the Constitution.
"We need to find a way forward to make sure that we can stop terrorists while protecting the privacy, and liberty, of innocent Americans," then-Sen. Obama said when he voted against Michael Hayden’s confirmation as CIA director in 2006. "As a nation we have to find the right balance between privacy and security, between executive authority to face threats and uncontrolled power. What protects us, and what distinguishes us, are the procedures we put in place to protect that balance, namely judicial warrants and congressional review. ... These are concrete safeguards to make sure surveillance hasn’t gone too far."
During his presidential campaign he reinforced these earlier stances by promising to "strengthen privacy protections for the digital age and … harness the power of technology to hold government and business accountable for violations of personal privacy." Though our Obameter tracking of this promise notes that his specific pledges pertained more to safeguards against commercial privacy infringements than governmental intrusions, he did promise to protect citizens’ privacy. As of Jan. 14, this promise was "in the works," as both Obama and Congress considered various measures to protect and define individuals’ Internet privacy.
But many of Obama’s criticisms of government surveillance specifically targeted President George W. Bush’s warrantless wiretaps and particular applications of FISA and the USA Patriot Act that Obama called excessive or illegal.
"I will provide our intelligence and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to track and take out the terrorists without undermining our Constitution and our freedom. That means no more illegal wiretapping of American citizens. No more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime. No more tracking citizens who do nothing more than protest a misguided war. No more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient," Obama said in 2007, adding that "the FISA court works."
Again critiquing "the Bush administration’s initial policy on warrantless wiretaps because it crossed the line between protecting our national security and eroding the civil liberties of American citizens," Obama promised to "update the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to provide greater oversight and accountability to the congressional intelligence committees to prevent future threats to the rule of law."
He also vowed to "revisit the Patriot Act to ensure that there is real and robust oversight of tools like national security letters, sneak-and-peek searches, and the use of the material witness provision."