President Obama responded to reports that the National Security Agency is collecting vast numbers of phone records and collaborating with tech companies to track users by saying that the programs are legal and “make a difference” when it comes to fighting terror.
“Now, the programs that have been discussed over the last couple of 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,” Obama said during a press conference about Obamacare in San Jose. “With respect to all these programs, the relevant intelligence committees are fully briefed on these programs.”
The president insisted if any agency wants to actually listen to a call, they would have to get permission from a court to do so.
“When it comes to telephone calls, nobody is listening to your telephone calls. That’s not what this program’s about,” he said. “I believe it is important for the American people to understand the limits of this targeted counterterrorism program and the principles that govern its use.”
Obama pointed to his speech about the War on Terror last week, when he called for a review of the perpetual war America has been engaged in since 9/11. However, he also responded to a question about leaks by defending the program’s secrecy.
“I don’t welcome leaks, because there’s a reason why these programs are classified,” the president said.
“I think it’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience,” the president added. “Were going to have to make some choices as a society.”
The Guardian‘s Glenn Greenwald, who published the warrant that created the media firestorm around the NSA’s activities, thinks that calls for a debate over governmental spying are too little, too late.
“It’s well past time that we have a debate about whether that’s the kind of country and world in which we want to live,” Greenwald told CNN’s Piers Morgan. “We haven’t had that debate because it’s all done in secrecy and the Obama administration has been very aggressive about bullying and threatening anybody who thinks about exposing it or writing about it or even doing journalism about it. It’s well past time that that come to an end.”
That such a debate can actually happen in a Congress that is largely complicit with this program is extemely unlikely.
“Rather than challenging the administration’s authority to secretly interpret and enact laws, however, Congress instead twice authorized them to keep everything a secret,” Joshua Foust wrote in The National Memo. “Last year, Ron Wyden, a Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, tried to prohibit secret legal rulings. He got voted down. That same year Senator Jeff Merkley, also a Democrat, added his own amendment to the renewal of the 2008 wiretapping law. His amendment was voted down by a strong margin in both parties.”