Ever hear of Presidential Policy Directive (PPD) 20? Bet not. The more you’ve never heard of something, the more worried you should be.
In mid-November , The Washington Post,
the first media outlet to report on the directive, noted that it “enables the military to act more aggressively to thwart cyberattacks on the nation’s web of government and private computer networks.”
The Post’s revelation came at the same time that other stories broke pointing to deepening problems with electronic privacy rights in America. The most sensational story involved the FBI’s snooping the private e-mails of two of the nation’s leading security officers, CIA Director David Petraeus and Gen. John Allen, head of the U.S. Afghanistan war effort.
More disturbing but expected, the Supreme Court rejected the ACLU’s challenge to the National Security Agency’s (NSA) use of warrantless wiretaps. And Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, proposed the further loosening of e-mail privacy protection regulations.
These are just four examples of an increasing number of efforts among various federal entities, including the Congress and Supreme Court, to expand the power of the U.S. government to spy on American citizens. Recent initiatives by three of the lead agencies engaged in citizen surveillance -- National Security Agency (NSA), Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Defense Department’s research arm, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) – outline the tightening grip of the spy state.
The ostensible rationale for the tightening of the digital security grip is to track potential foreign cyber-threats. It is, however, evident that federal agencies are increasingly surveilling the electronic lives of ordinary Americans.
These developments signal the growing erosion of personal electronic privacy. Equally troubling, little information is available as to how these agencies share among themselves the personal information they gather about ordinary citizens. Nor do Americans know how these agencies are incorporating data from 3rd party commercial entities, like websites Google or Facebook and data aggregators like Acxiom or LexisNexis, into their database profiles.
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In mid-October and with little fanfare, President Obama signed PPD 20
. He uses PPDs to promulgate national security decisions and, since taking office, he has issued 20 directives.
According to the Congressional Research Service
, “From the earliest days of the federal government, Presidents, exercising magisterial or executive power not unlike that of a monarch, from time to time have issued directives establishing new policy, decreeing the commencement or cessation of some action, or ordaining that notice be given to some declaration.”
PPDs are state secrets. PPD 20 is believed to legalize two un-Constitutional programs. It may expand the power of the military and intelligence agencies to engage in cyber warfare against those deemed “cyber enemies” anywhere in the world. And it may permit federal agencies to monitor the networks of private companies, such as Google and Facebook.