This morning’s Observer column.
Last week in the Hague, Barack Obama seemed to have suddenly remembered the oath he swore on his inauguration as president – that stuff about preserving, protecting and defending the constitution of the United States. At any rate, he announced that the NSA would end the “bulk collection” of telephone records and instead would be required to seek a new kind of court order to search data held by telecommunications companies.
This policy change is a tacit admission of what Edward Snowden (and 2001 whistleblower William Binney before him) had been claiming, namely that the warrantless surveillance of US citizens by the NSA and other government agencies does, in fact, violate the constitution of the United States. Obama’s announcement looked to some observers as the first crack to appear in the implacable facade of the national surveillance state. This looked promising because, as we know from second world war movies, the first crack is inevitably the harbinger of the eventual total collapse of the dam.