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Digital State of the Union (Part 1)

Remarks by the President on Review of Signals Intelligence Jan 17
Remarks by the President on Review of Signals Intelligence Jan 17
Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Digital State of the Union Part 1
Obama's State of the Union Address Avoids Issues Presented in Recent NSA Press Conference
January 17, 2014 Remarks by the President on Review of Signals Intelligence
January 28, 2014 State of the Union Address

President Obama delivered his sixth State of the Union Address last night to Congress. This stale and uninspiring monologue was in drastic contrast to the eloquent and insightful speech given just two weeks ago on NSA reform. While the issues surrounding privacy, net neutrality, hacktivism (The Day We Fight Back)and leaks of confidential government programs have been cause for concern, the President offered just two ambiguous sentences related to NSA reforms in last night's speech.

Given the controversy surrounding the NSA policies, Obama might have offered a retrospect on the issue of government power vs. civil liberties as he did in the January 17th NSA speech. “In the long twilight struggle against communism, we had been reminded that the very liberties that we sought to preserve could not be sacrificed at the altar of national security.” It may be a coincidence that January 17th was the anniversary of Eisenhower's famous “Military Industrial Complex” speech, in which the issue of abuse of power by government was addressed.

It is however no coincidence that the January 17th press conference, in which Obama seemed to be built of entirely different material, was not delivered prime-time. In the January 17th speech, the President formulated ideas and insights and presented a very real state of the union as opposed to the politically driven, “American Dream” rhetoric in last night's very-commercial broadcast.

The NSA speech was eloquent and insightful and seemed to have bullet proof arguments, but upon second viewing or reading of the transcript, a reader would be lost in it's ambiguity and baffled by the over reaching scope of the USA PATRIOT act. “Relationships with foreign intelligence services have expanded and our capacity to repel cyber attacks have been strengthened.”

One similarity to the two speeches is an admitted lack of accountability. For example, Obama stated, “As a senator, I was critical of several practices, such as warrantless wiretaps. And all too often new authorities were instituted without adequate public debate.” Perhaps as a senator this lack of accountability can be justified, but most voters would like to think that as President, Obama would have more authority in protecting civil liberties. However, the only mention of the issue in the State of the Union Address was one ambiguous sentence which makes the President seem equally unaccountable, “...working with this Congress, I will reform our surveillance programs because the vital work of our intelligence community depends on public confidence, here and abroad, that privacy of ordinary people is not being violated.”

By now almost everyone has heard of the data mining capabilities of smart phone apps such as “Angry Birds.” Civil liberties are not threatened by childish video games. It is the back end where the server collects data allowing for telecommunication companies to put large databases on the open market and to basically give away data to government agencies. In his January 17th speech Obama acknowledged this. “...the combination of increased digital information and powerful supercomputers offers intelligence agencies the possibility of sifting through massive amounts of bulk data to identify patterns or pursue leads that may thwart impending threats. It’s a powerful tool. But the government collection and storage of such bulk data also creates a potential for abuse.”

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