The monument aloft the river Hudson is happy. It is not often that a government plays on the backfoot on a stringent legislation. The Barack Obama administration has restrained itself close to 14 years after the 9/11 outrage that shook the United States of America to its foundations… and literally so.
The universal telephone snooping, which actually was revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, will eventually be limited and regulated. Strikingly, the legislative dichotomy has not come in the way of President Obama signing the first amendment of the Patriot Act which was passed by the George Bush dispensation in the aftermath of the September 2001 catastrophe.
The second major facet of the development must be that the President acted with urgent despatch last Wednesday – his signature came barely 24 hours after the Senate passed the cache of reforms to curb the sweeping phone surveillance powers of the National Security Agency (NSA). Yet another salutary aspect is that America&’s legislature – a symbol of political disconnect – and the executive have acted in concert on an acutely sensitive issue, indeed one that has a profound bearing on the current surge of Islamist fundamentalism. The joint initiative is concordant with the best traditions of democracy. Indeed, the restraining of government powers has been quite the most critical since 1978, when Congress – then dominated by Democrats – had prevented any repeat of the covert spying on opponents by the Nixon regime.
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The reforms are as welcome as they were overdue. In the net, crippling curbs have been imposed on the NSA. Its bulk phone data will be phased out over the next six months and replaced by a system in which it will have to apply for such records from the phone companies, subject to approval by a federal court. Also to be curbed are powers of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which will have to declassify some of its key decisions, and arguments for privacy will be permissible.
It is hard not to wonder whether Congress and the White House have taken a calculated risk in the face of the ISIS surge? Yet the answer must be a modified “yes”. Not least because of the perceptible change in the national mood since 2001. Mercifully, there have been no major terrorist acts in the USA in parallel with the winding down of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a sense, the reforms do confirm the message of domestic safety.
The second underpinning was the disclosure by Snowden in 2013 of how details of phone calls by every American were being collected by the NSA. The national outcry that greeted the revelation has now been addressed. Above all, the reforms signify the victory of individual liberty in a matter as commonplace as the use of Alexander Graham Bell&’s invention.