From the point of view of civil libertarians, the Obama administration has been an exercise in frustration, with every hopeful sign followed by failures to live up to its own promises.
The ACLU has just issued a report (pdf), titled "Establishing a New Normal: National Security, Civil Liberties, and Human Rights Under the Obama Administration," which focuses on this pattern of inconsistency.
"The administration has displayed a decidedly mixed record," explains ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero, "resulting, on a range of issues, in the very real danger that the Obama administration will institutionalize some of the most troublesome policies of the previous administration -- in essence, creating a troubling 'new normal.'"
As summarized in a press release announcing the report, "President Obama has made great strides in some areas, such as his auspicious first steps to categorically prohibit torture, outlaw the CIA's use of secret overseas detention sites and release the Bush administration's torture memos, but he has failed to eliminate some of the worst policies put in place by President Bush, such as military commissions and indefinite detention. He has also expanded the Bush administration's 'targeted killing' program."
The transparency section, for example, emphasizes that the program of "targeted killing" of suspected terrorists has been "shrouded in secrecy," and that despite a FOIA request by the ACLU, "the CIA has refused even to confirm or deny whether it has records about the program."
It also points out that rather than living up to Obama's promise as a candidate that he would make sure whistleblowers got protection, "the administration has been prosecuting them."
"We urge the administration to recommit itself to the ideals that the President himself invoked in his first days in office," the report urges. "Our democracy cannot survive if crucial public policy decisions are made behind closed doors, implemented in secret, and never subjected to meaningful public oversight and debate. It cannot survive if the public does not know what policies have been adopted in its name."
Another striking revelation appears in the section on surveillance: "Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration has invested border agents with the authority to engage in suspicionless searches of Americans' laptops and cell phones at the border; Americans who return home from abroad may now [see below *] find themselves confronted with a border agent who, rather than welcoming them home, insists on copying their electronic records -- including emails, address books, photos, and videos -- before allowing them to enter the country. (Through FOIA, the ACLU has learned that in the last 20 months alone, border agents have used this power thousands of times.)"
[I]f the Obama administration does not effect a fundamental break with the Bush administration’s policies on detention, accountability, and other issues, but instead creates a lasting legal architecture in support of those policies, then it will have ratified, rather than rejected, the dangerous notion that America is in a permanent state of emergency and that core liberties must be surrendered forever."