This is (unfortunately) not a huge surprise, but it appears that a Trump administration is going to be much worse for civil liberties and surveillance. Earlier today, Donald Trump named his choices to head the CIA — Rep. Mike Pompeo — and to be the next Attorney General — Senator Jeff Sessions — and both have terrible records on surveillance, civil liberties and whistleblowing. They also are problematic in other areas, but in the areas where we cover, it’s not looking good.
Let’s start with Pompeo. In an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal back in January of this year, Pompeo called for expanding surveillance powers rather than limiting them. He criticized the USA Freedom Act and any other attempt to even moderately cut back on surveillance and said we had to go the other direction, claiming “What’s needed is a fundamental upgrade to America’s surveillance capabilities.”
Congress should pass a law re-establishing collection of all metadata, and combining it with publicly available financial and lifestyle information into a comprehensive, searchable database. Legal and bureaucratic impediments to surveillance should be removed. That includes Presidential Policy Directive-28, which bestows privacy rights on foreigners and imposes burdensome requirements to justify data collection.
While (at least) that same editorial did say that a backdoor on encrypted products “would do little good,” he’s no fan of encryption. He just thinks that if you use it, it should be considered a “red flag” that you’re up to no good:
There has been much debate about whether providers of communications hardware and software in the U.S. should be obliged to give the government backdoor access. Such a mandate would do little good, since terrorists would simply switch to foreign or home-built encryption. New technologies can cloak messages in background noise, rendering them difficult to detect.
Forcing terrorists into encrypted channels, however, impedes their operational effectiveness by constraining the amount of data they can send and complicating transmission protocols, a phenomenon known in military parlance as virtual attrition. Moreover, the use of strong encryption in personal communications may itself be a red flag.
In another opinion piece for the National Review, he attacks reformers and those who support Ed Snowden while announcing his own bill to give the NSA greater surveillance powers:
Those who today suggest that the USA FREEDOM Act, which gutted the National Security Agency’s (NSA) metadata program, enables the intelligence community to better prevent and investigate threats against the U.S. are lying. I use that word intentionally, because these candidates know better. Less intelligence capacity equals less safety. To share Edward Snowden’s vision of America as the problem is to come down on the side of President Obama’s diminishing willingness to collect intelligence on jihadis. No Republican candidate who does that is worthy of our vote.
I have just introduced the Liberty through Strength Act II in the House of Representatives to restore the NSA’s tools. We cannot expect our intelligence professionals to prevent terrorist attacks while handcuffing them at the same time.
Just to be extra clear: Pompeo doesn’t just dislike Ed Snowden, he has declared him a traitor who should be “given a death sentence.”
It’s absolutely the case that we have not been able to secure all the American information that we needed to, and that we’ve had the traitor Edward Snowden steal that information. He should be brought back from Russia and given due process, and I think the proper outcome would be that he would be given a death sentence for having put friends of mine, friends of yours, who served in the military today, at enormous risk, because of the information he stole and then released to foreign powers.
Pompeo has also defended the CIA’s torture program against critics:
“These men and women are not torturers, they are patriots,” and, “The programs being used were within the law, within the constitution.”
There’s also the fact that Pompeo has basically no experience in the intelligence community. He was an Army officer and a businessman, only entering Congress a few years ago. In that link, Motherboard quotes someone from the intelligence community questioning how Pompeo is qualified to run the CIA:
“None of us believe that a couple of years in the Army followed by sitting on a committee in Congress qualifies anyone for any position in the CIA, much less as the Director,” a former military officer who also worked in the intelligence community told Motherboard on condition of anonymity. “We believe that the ongoing nepotism used to select unqualified and in some cases, dangerous people for leadership in these key positions may well lead to a catastrophic failure for the United States.”
So, yes, here’s someone with little actual experience in intelligence, but who is absolutely sure the answer is greater surveillance of Americans, and who supports programs that have been declared to be torture. And they’re putting him in charge of the CIA.
On to Sessions. He’s also a huge supporter of increased surveillance, and not a fan of civil liberties. Going back a decade ago, Sessions very publicly supported President George W. Bush’s surveillance programs that included warrantless wiretapping of Americans.
“This is a reasonable assertion of executive power, and it’s more than an academic discussion,” Sessions said. “There are 3,000 Americans who have no civil rights today because they were killed as a result of communications from foreign terrorist organizations who called in to sleeper cells who then carried out the catastrophic 9/11 attacks. President Bush’s surveillance program authorizes only an intercept of an international call or email in which one of the parties is connected to al Qaeda. I think the terrorist surveillance program is a reasonable response.”
For what it’s worth, Sessions is wrong here. The surveillance program — as we later learned — enabled much, much, much more than that, and included mass surveillance on the communications data of millions of Americans. And the “connection to Al Qaeda” was expanded to include many hops away, and much more than Al Qaeda. But as far as I can tell, Sessions never admitted that his statement was wrong or changed his views on Presidential surveillance powers. Just this year, Sessions spoke out against encryption on mobile phones in discussing the legal fights between Apple and the FBI:
Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama questioned Cook’s position. “Coming from a law enforcement background, I believe this is a more serious issue than Tim Cook understands,” Sessions said. He said accessing phones is critical to law enforcement.
“In a criminal case, or could be a life and death terrorist case, accessing a phone means the case is over. Time and time again, that kind of information results in an immediate guilty plea, case over,” Sessions said. He added that the ability for government to access a phone should not be abused.
He’s also spoken out vehemently against NSA reform that limits surveillance, complaining about the very modest changes in the USA Freedom Act.
In 2006, the National Security Agency transitioned the bulk telephone-metadata acquisition program authorized under the president’s Terrorist Surveillance Program to the business-records court-order authority of Section 215. Since shortly after 9/11, this program has been helping to keep Americans safe by acquiring non-content call records, i.e., telephone numbers and the date, time, and duration of a call. This program has yielded invaluable intelligence that has helped prevent attacks and uncovered terrorist plots. Nevertheless, the Obama administration has built up unnecessary barriers that sacrifice the fragile operational efficiency of the program without actually accomplishing anything in terms of data security.
He claimed this despite the fact that this article was published years after it had been revealed that the government had never relied on the Section 215 data to save lives, and even where it was used, other means were used to stop any kind of attack.
On top of that, just recently, Sessions tried to massively expand the surveillance powers of the Justice Department, in an amendment he tried to attach to ECPA (Electronic Communications Privacy Act) Reform. We’ve been calling for ECPA Reform for many, many years, but to stop warrantless surveillance and data collection. But Sessions’ plan was to make it even easier for law enforcement to get data, so long as they “declared it was an emergency.”
A provider of electronic communication service or remote computing service shall disclose to a governmental entity a wire or electronic communication (including the contents of the communication) and a record or other information pertaining to a subscriber or customer if a representative of the governmental entity reasonably certifies under penalty of perjury that an emergency involving the danger of death or serious physical injury requires disclosure without delay.
And, the thing is, many companies will help out law enforcement voluntarily in such situations. But Sessions was trying to make it mandatory, which would be massively abused.
And that doesn’t even touch on Session’s horrific history concerning civil rights, which generally doesn’t bode well for his views on related civil liberties.
I know that we’d heard from some Trump supporters telling us that they believed he wouldn’t be as bad on surveillance as Obama or Bush. But, so far, it certainly looks like he’s worse, given who he is planning to appoint.