Obama on NSA data-mining: ‘Nobody is listening to your telephone calls’ (+video)
President Obama defends once-secret counterterrorism programs, such as NSA data-mining, and decries leaks, even as he welcomes public debate over how to balance security with civil liberties.
President Obama sought to reassure Americans that the government is not spying on them or unduly violating their civil liberties, after a spate of press leaks that exposed top-secret federal data-mining programs.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
But in remarks to reporters Friday, the president also defended such programs as necessary for national security – and said he welcomed a public debate over the tradeoffs involved in keeping the public safe while also protecting privacy.
“I think it's important to recognize that you can't have a hundred percent security and also then have a hundred percent privacy and zero inconvenience,” Mr. Obama said in San Jose, Calif., before heading to southern California to meet with China's president. “You know, we're going to have to make some choices as a society.”
RECOMMENDED: Quiz: How much do you know about terrorism?
His comments followed the second major leak this week about a classified government program aimed at thwarting terrorism. On Friday, the Washington Post published a story describing how the National Security Agency (NSA) and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading US Internet companies as they track foreign targets, according to a top-secret document obtained by the newspaper. A separate article in Friday’s Wall Street Journal discussed NSA data-mining of purchase information from credit-card companies.
On Wednesday, the British newspaper the Guardian exposed a top-secret court order that requires Verizon to provide the NSA with records on phone calls on an “ongoing, daily basis.” It has since come out that other telecommunications providers are subject to the same requirements, and that the 90-day orders are regularly renewed by a special court.
The exposure of key elements of the federal government’s antiterrorism apparatus put the White House on the defensive, as civil libertarians expressed outrage over what they see as an overzealous interpretation of the Patriot Act. As a senator and presidential candidate with a background in constitutional law, Obama had railed against the aggressive antiterror tactics of President George W. Bush. In a 2005 floor speech, then-Senator Obama decried Americans’ lack of legal recourse in court against a government “fishing expedition” into private records.
But as president, Obama has continued his predecessor’s antiterrorism programs, and in some cases – such as in the use of unmanned aircraft to go after suspected terrorists – he has expanded them.
In his remarks Friday, Obama acknowledged his evolving view, and said he had strengthened the protections to average citizens.