All four of Obama’s proposed reforms are useful. The second is adding an adversary to proceedings of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, which has the power to approve secret warrants. Another is to assemble a committee that would issue a report about the balance between liberty and security. And then there’s a call to increase transparency. Some of this area’s elements are cosmetic—a new Web site for the N.S.A., for example, for which one hopes there is a better graphic designer than whoever puts together the agency’s classified PowerPoint presentations—and others are important but fragmentary. Obama said he’d make public the “legal rationale for the government’s collection activities under Section 215.” That is good, but legal rationales, for this and all other collection activities, are not things that should ever be fully classified in the first place. How an agency proceeds in a given case is one thing, but what it and we understand our rights to be should never be secret.

You’ll forgive me if thinking that releasing details of how laws are secretly interpreted constitutes ‘transparency’ to any reasonable degree. Though I’m well aware that a vast portion of American jurisprudence is effectively withheld from the public (you have to pay for access to PACER to see how legislation has actually been interpreted by courts, thus excluding individuals from understanding their laws and court processes) it is inexcusable that POTUS thinks that making their rationales public is sufficient. What is legal is not necessarily right nor constitutional, and dragnet surveillance of the world’s communications is an inexcusable affront to basic human freedoms and liberties in today’s digital era.