Friday, June 07, 2013

Barack Obama addresses controversy over newly revealed NSA surveillance programs

On Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama addressed the surveillance programs that came to light earlier this week. Obama made his comments, in response to a reporter's questions, after a speech he made on healthcare he made in San Jose, Calif.

One of the two programs, first revealed in The Guardian, involves Verizon Wireless and a court order issued by FISC which requires the nation's top wireless carrier to deliver data on all phone calls made by its subscribers to the NSA -- daily. The data includes the phone numbers of the caller and recipient, duration of the call, location of both caller and recipient, and other unique identifying data. Actual conversations are not included.

The second, dubbed PRISM, involves nine of the top Internet companies, and reportedly allows the U.S. government direct access to those firms' servers. Those companies are Apple, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, and YouTube. Many of these companies have denied any knowledge or participation in PRISM.

Obama said indicated that -- with regard to the phone call tapping, all members of Congress are aware of the program. With regard to the data tapping, the relevant members of the associated intelligence communities have been briefed.

He said:
The programs that have been discussed over the last couple days in the press are secret in the sense that they're classified, but they're not secret in the sense that when it comes to telephone calls, every member of Congress has been briefed on this program. With respect to all these programs, the relevant intelligence committees are fully briefed on these programs.

These are programs that have been authorized by broad, bipartisan majorities repeatedly since 2006. So, I think at the outset, it's important to understand that your duly elected representatives have been consistently informed on exactly what we're doing.
Obama continued, speaking specifically about the phone surveillance:
When it comes to telephone calls, nobody is listening to your telephone calls. 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're not looking at content.

But by sifting through this so-called "metadata," they may identify potential leads with respect to folks who might engage in terrorism. If the intelligence community then actually wants to listen to a phone call, they've got to back to a federal judge, just like they would in a criminal investigation.

This program, by the way, is fully overseen not just by Congress, but by the FISA Court ... every member of Congress has been briefed on this program.
With regard to PRISM, Obama said:
With respect to internet and emails, this does not apply to US citizens, and it does not apply to people living in the United States ... again, in this instance, not only is Congress fully appraised of this, but what is also true is that the FISA Court has to authorize it.
Going further, Obama defended both programs, saying they were broadly and bipartisanly supported by lawmakers. They are also, he added, legal under the Constitution:
In summary, what you've got is two programs that were originally authorized by Congress; have been repeatedly authorized by Congress; bipartisan majorities have approved them; Congress is continually briefed on how these are conducted; there are a whole range of safeguards involved; and federal judges are overseeing the entire program throughout.
That being said, Obama added, he welcomed debate on the matter. It is, he said, "healthy for our democracy."

Noting that all three branches of government, executive, legislative, and judicial, have oversight on the programs, he added:
If people can't trust not only the executive branch, but also don't trust Congress and don't trust federal judges to make sure that we're abiding by the Constitution, due process, and rule of law, then we're going to have some problems here.
When a reporter brought up the fact that the programs became known due to leaks, Obama said "I don't welcome leaks." That's not news, based on the recent news about the DOJ and the AP.
I don't welcome leaks. Because there's a reason why these programs are classified ... if every step that we're taking to try and prevent a terrorist act is on the front page of the newspapers or on television, then presumably the people trying to do us harm are going to be able to get around our preventive measures. That's why these things are classified.
Notably, some GOP members are already making moves to make hay out of revelations on the newly revealed programs. For one, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) acted as though he had not knowledge of the programs, introducing legislation that would prevent the government from obtaining the phone records of Americans without "a warrant based on probable cause."

That being said, fellow Republican senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) rolled his eyes when told of Paul's moves.
Sen. Rand Paul, he's a libertarian, and in Rand Paul's world you have almost no defenses against terrorists.
In fact, in an interview on Thursday morning, Graham said he was glad to hear of the NSA surveillance campaigns:
We are very much under threat. Radical Islam is on the rise throughout the region. Homegrown terrorism is one of my biggest concerns. It is happening in our own backyard, and I am glad that NSA is trying to find out what terrorists are up to overseas and inside the country.




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