Obama defends phone spy programme

2013-06-07 21:09

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

San Jose - President Barack Obama on Friday staunchly defended the sweeping US government surveillance of Americans' phone and internet activity, calling it a modest encroachment on privacy that was necessary to defend the United States from attack.

Obama said the programmes were "trade-offs" designed to strike a balance between privacy concerns and keeping Americans safe from terrorist attacks. He said they were supervised by federal judges and Congress, and that lawmakers had been briefed.

"Nobody is listening to your telephone calls. That's not what this program is about," Obama told reporters during a visit to California's Silicon Valley.

"In the abstract you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a potential programme run amok, but when you actually look at the details, I think we've struck the right balance," Obama said. "There are trade-offs involved."

The Washington Post reported on Thursday that federal authorities have been tapping into the central servers of companies including Google, Apple and Facebook to gain access to e-mails, photos and other files allowing analysts to track a person's movements and contacts.

That added to privacy concerns sparked by a report in Britain's Guardian newspaper that the National Security Agency had been mining phone records from millions of customers of a subsidiary of Verizon Communications.

The two reports launched a broad debate about privacy rights and the proper limits of government surveillance in the aftermath of the 11 September, 2001, attacks in the United States.

Obama, who pledged to run the most transparent administration in US history, said in his first comments on the controversy that he came into office with a "healthy skepticism" about the surveillance programmes but had come to believe "modest encroachments on privacy" were worth it.

Obama said his administration also had instituted audits and tightened safeguards to ensure the programs did not overstep their bounds.

Make choices

"You can't have 100% security and also then have 100% privacy and zero inconvenience," he said. "We're going to have to make some choices as a society."

Obama may be forced to broach the subject during his meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a California summit on Friday, in which US concerns about alleged Chinese hacking of American secrets were expected to be high on the agenda.

While members of the US Congress are routinely briefed by the NSA on secret surveillance programmes, it is not clear how much they knew about the widespread surveillance of private internet activity.

Representative Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, said he thought the administration had good intentions but stressed the programme was "just too broad an overreach."

"I think there ought to be some connection to suspicion, otherwise we can say that any intrusion on all of our privacy is justified for the times that we will catch the few terrorists," Waxman told MSNBC. "Good intentions are not enough. We need protections against government intrusion that goes too far."

The Washington Post said the surveillance program involving firms including Microsoft, Skype and YouTube, code-named PRISM and established under Republican President George W Bush in 2007, had seen "exponential growth" under the Democratic Obama administration.

It said the NSA increasingly relies on PRISM as a source of raw material for its intelligence reports.

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said the report contained "numerous inaccuracies," and some of the companies identified by the Washington Post denied that the NSA and Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) had "direct access" to their central servers.

Microsoft said it does not voluntarily participate in government data collection and only complies "with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers."

Erwin Chemerinsky, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, said the program was "deeply disturbing" and went beyond what was constitutionally acceptable.

"It is a huge gathering of information by the federal government. The argument that it protects national security is unpersuasive," he said.

Read more on:    nsa  |  fbi  |  barack obama  |  us  |  online privacy  |  mobile

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
9 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
Traffic
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.