Obama Threads the NSA Needle

Friday, January 17, 2014


On Friday, President Obama announced changes to the United States’ surveillance policies. While Obama addressed greater security measures for telephone data, much of the NSA’s surveillance practices remain intact. The implementations of these changes are in the hands of the intelligence agencies and Congress. Brooke takes a look at how the President was prompted to pull back the NSA's power.


Hosted by:

Bob Garfield and Brooke Gladstone

Comments [2]

Francisco from Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

The fact that Obama tried to reassure people by comparing the USA to China and Russia is worrying. The US, if it was even half way to living up to its ideals, should not be in the same league as Russia and China. The fact that he chose those countries to compare the US to shows just how repressive the surveillance laws are.

Unfortunately, Britain is probably worse than the US when it comes to surveillance and civil liberties.

Jan. 20 2014 02:37 PM
Marc Falkoff

The piece on rap lyrics being used as evidence in criminal trials included some discussion of the Illinois criminal trial of Olutosin Oduwole, a student at Southern Illinois University. I believe a couple of important bits of context were left out of the story.

First, about the scrap of paper that was found in Oduwole's car. The guest, Professor Charis Kubrin, concedes the paper included what looks like a threat of violence (or what would have been a threat if Oduwole had actually posted the note online or anywhere else). Oduwole wrote that if money weren’t sent to his PayPal account, “a murderous rampage similar to the VT shooting will occur at another highly populated university.” The Virginia Tech massacre had occurred a few months earlier; coincidentally, six students would be shot dead in a similar incident seven months later, at Northern Illinois University. Were these threatening lines just art? Were they just part of the introduction to rap lyrics that also appeared on the scrap of paper?

That’s a nonfrivolous argument that the jury should have been allowed to consider – and that it WAS allowed to consider, with the assistance of Prof. Kubrin’s expert testimony. But the jury, of course, rejected Prof. Kubrin’s suggestion that the “threat” was part of the song lyric. They presumably took into account not only that the “threat” was not written in meter like the rest of the lyrics, but also that it was written in a different color ink (blue) from the song lyrics (black). The jury may also have taken into consideration more context that wasn’t aired in the story, including that Oduwole had purchased four high-caliber firearms with high-capacity magazines online, that he’d kept a loaded firearm on campus without permission and that he’d opened a PayPal account under a pseudonym.

While I generally agree with the sentiments about overuse of rap lyrics at criminal trials, in my opinion the Oduwole case isn’t a terrific vehicle to make that argument. The issue in Oduwole wasn’t whether rap lyrics were being used against the defendant, but rather whether a scrap of a note WAS a rap lyric in the first place. This was clearly an issue for the jury to decide, and they decided the note was not part of the rap. To have withheld it from the jury would, in my opinion, have been improper.

That said, there’s one more thing that wasn’t mentioned in the piece. Oduwole’s conviction was REVERSED by an Illinois appellate court a bit less than a year ago. Note that he had been convicted of an “attempt to make a terroristic threat.” The conviction was reversed on the ground that no reasonable juror could have concluded that Oduwole had come close to making a terroristic threat, observing that his threatening note was left in his own car out of sight of the public and that there was no evidence he was about to post the note to the Internet or otherwise distribute it.

Jan. 20 2014 11:30 AM

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