From the article:
“When it comes to telephone calls, nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” Obama said. “That’s not what this program is about. As was indicated, what the intelligence community is doing is looking at phone numbers and durations of calls — they are not looking at people’s names and they are not looking at content.”
“The man who trades freedom for security does not deserve nor will he ever receive either. “
– Benjamin Franklin
– President Obama defends surveillance programs in San Jose speech (Mercury News, June 7, 2013):
SAN JOSE — President Barack Obama on Friday defended his administration’s mass collection of telephone and Internet records, saying the surveillance is thoroughly overseen by Congress and judges to strike the right balance between security and privacy.
“When I came into this office, I made two commitments that are more important than any commitment I made: number one to keep the American people safe, and number two to uphold the Constitution,” he told reporters who had gathered at San Jose’s Fairmont Hotel to hear him tout California’s implementation of Obamacare, but were more interested in hearing about government surveillance.
“You can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience. We’re going to have to make some choices as a society,” he said. “I think that on balance, we have established a process and a procedure that the American people should feel comfortable about.”Obama made his first public comments about the growing national firestorm over reports that the National Security Agency has been obtaining massive data on Verizon telephone customers, continuing a George W. Bush-era anti-terrorism program. And the Washington Post reported the NSA and the FBI have access to the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, including Google, Apple, Yahoo and Facebook.
The program allows the agencies to extract audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs so analysts can track a person’s movements and contacts over time. The classified program, code-named PRISM, began during the Bush administration after revelations of warrantless domestic wire-tapping drove Congress to put new controls in place.
“Every member of Congress has been briefed” on the phone program and the intelligence committees knew of the Internet program, Obama said. Both were approved and reauthorized by bipartisan committees since 2006, he said.
Still, civil libertarians and most Bay Area lawmakers reacted Friday with dismay, calling for more information from the administration and increased oversight of such programs.
“What exactly is the justification for doing this?” said Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo. “The American people deserve to know exactly what kind of information is being gathered — and why.”
Obama, who arrived in the Bay Area late Thursday to raise money for Senate Democrats and spent the night at the Fairmont, tried to reassure Americans that government workers aren’t eavesdropping on them.
“When it comes to telephone calls, nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” he said. “That’s not what this program is about. As was indicated, what the intelligence community is doing is looking at phone numbers and durations of calls — they are not looking at people’s names and they are not looking at content.”
By sifting this telephone “metadata,” he said, experts can develop leads to prevent acts of terrorism. But if intelligence officials actually want to listen to a call, “they’ve got to go back to a federal judge just like they would in a criminal investigation,” he said.
And, he noted, the program also is overseen by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court, a panel of federal judges assembled specifically to ensure that programs aren’t abused and are consistent with the Constitution and federal law.
“With respect to the Internet and emails, this does not apply to U.S. citizens and it does not apply to people living in the United States,” Obama said.
“Again, in this instance, not only is Congress fully apprised of it, but what is also true is that the FISA court has to authorize it.”
But the problem with the FISA court system is that it isn’t a truly adversarial process, said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. The ultimate targets of the court’s orders — end users — have no opportunity to challenge those orders and hardly ever even know about them.
“In other types of situations — criminal investigations, civil discovery — you get to fight against search procedures,” Rotenberg noted, but “when the FISA court says ‘do it,’ you do it.”
The president’s remarks followed an unusual late-night statement Thursday from the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, who denounced the leaks of classified documents that revealed the programs and warned that America’s security will suffer.
The government is prohibited from “indiscriminately sifting” through the data acquired, he said. That data can be reviewed only “when there is a reasonable suspicion, based on specific facts, that the particular basis for the query is associated with a foreign terrorist organization.” He also said only counterterrorism personnel trained in the program may access the records — and that the program is reviewed every 90 days.
Obama said he welcomes bipartisan debate of such programs as the sign of a healthy democracy — even if some Republicans “weren’t very worried about it when it was a Republican president.”
Most Democratic Bay Area lawmakers apparently also need more convincing.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, said she was “troubled” by the NSA surveillance and believes “it is not in conformance with the privacy guarantees under the Fourth Amendment.”
Lofgren noted some are shrugging off the program with an attitude that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about. “They are willing to trade the Constitution for perceived security. I think that in the long run, America is lot safer if we adhere to requirements of the Constitution than if we don’t.”
Speier said the NSA’s programs are “simply overreaching by any reasonable measure of intelligence gathering,” and she urged the administration to brief all lawmakers, not just the intelligence committees.
Reps. George Miller, D-Martinez; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; and Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton, all called for reviews and stronger oversight of the programs.
Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, acknowledged that low confidence in the privacy and security of telecommunications “has a far-reaching and chilling effect on our society and our economy,” but “all of the facts related to this matter should be considered before reaching any conclusions.”
Rep. Mike Thompson, the Bay Area’s only House Intelligence Committee member, wholeheartedly defended the programs.
“This program has saved American lives and has stopped at least one terrorist attack on U.S. soil,” said Thompson, D-Napa. “No one’s civil liberties have been violated, and all branches of government were aware.”