Obama defends NSA surveillance: 'Nobody is listening to your phonecalls'

Obama defends NSA surveillance: 'Nobody is listening to your phonecalls'

Summary: President Obama has called NSA surveillance a "modest encroachment" on privacy.

Credit: White House

President Barack Obama has defended the National Security Agency's surveillance programs, branding them a "modest encroachment" on privacy for the good of national defense.

On Friday, the U.S. president told reporters at Silicon Valley that the program, supervised by federal judges and authorized by Congress, is not about "listening to your telephone calls." Although the NSA can keep tabs on Americans' phone and Internet records, Obama said the correct "balance" has been kept between Big Brother-like spying and maintaining national security.

The president, now in his second term, said that he was skeptical about the programs when elected in 2008, but has come to the conclusion that such "modest encroachments on privacy" were worth it as a society, commenting:

"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. There are trade-offs involved."

Unnamed U.S. officials told Reuters that law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and DOJ, are likely to open a criminal investigation into the leaking of documents to both The Guardian and Washington Post.

The NSA's whistleblower has been revealed as Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old who has worked as a former technical assistant for the CIA. Currently residing in Hong Kong to try and combat the U.S.'s expected reprisal for leaking information, Snowden said that despite having to leave a good job, home and family, he has "no regrets" and has "done nothing wrong."

"I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions. I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant," Snowden told The Guardian.

Last week, leaked secret court orders showing that the NSA was mining the phone records of millions of Verizon customers. Obama's comments now come after the Post and Guardian revealed details of the NSA's extensive surveillance, including programs Prism and Boundless Informant — the agency's means of data mining and cataloguing information.

The U.S. government is said to have collected almost three billion pieces of intelligence from U.S. computer networks in the 30-day period ending in March this year, as well as indexing almost 100 billion pieces worldwide.

A number of firms including Google, Apple, Yahoo and Facebook were labelled in the reports and granted "intelligence services direct access to the companies' servers." A number of companies have denied giving agencies "direct access," and the original Post story has been altered, potentially due to misinterpretation of leaked documents.

U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has said that the surveillance system is "important and entirely legal," and the behaviour of media outlets disclosing details of the program was "reprehensible."

Topics: Security, Government US, Privacy

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  • Dishonest as always

    These people are always encroaching on our privacy, and are deeply dishonest about it. The secrecy that surrounded this flagrant breach of our privacy, the efforts that went into covering it up and the shallow lawyer-talk are all a symbol of Obama's presidency. Tribute to the whistle blower, sad that his life will be destroyed as a result of this revelation, which was done in the interests of all of us.
  • US govs = liars = murders

    US gov lied about mass destruction weapons existence in Iraq so consciously caused dead of hundreds US or EU soldiers who died because of the lie = murders, liars

    never trust to any US or EU official talking about security
    • Are there any governments you think are particularly trustworthy?

      If so, which?
      John L. Ries
  • OMG the government is out to get me!

    I kinda get up in arms about things like this. The real issue here is whether the data IS abused or not... not whether it COULD be abused.... geeze if we say "NO!!!" to anything that could possibly be abused, then nobody would get anywhere... In the same way that you take on some responsibility for the whacko's out there by locking your doors at night and taking off your shoes at the airport.... If the government checks aggregates of phone flow (*this* was NOT recording conversations) and if it stops just one guy from setting off a bomb... where are you hurt by that? If the government keeps it secret so that terrorist types can continue to be stupid instead of pushing all of their transactions to TOR, what do you care? Isn't that better? I will be first in line if the government is really using the data against me, but that is *not* what this media hoopla is about... it is the collection of data to help to find internal and external whacko's. Interestingly... Verizon (And Facebook and Google) who holds all this data... have LESS restrictions on how they can use it than the government does - these companies aren't required to have a secret court order if they choose to use it for advertising or whatever they like... and if Verizon breaks their "Contract" with you and gives you data to a third party (that could be based in a foreign country) and we find out... there is a long drawn out class action suit where a bunch of lawyers make a bunch of money and you get $15.... As to the other two replies here - first... have you thought about the government being 100% transparent about what they are doing? Would you like the police department to use the local newspaper before they go in for a drug bust or domestic abuse? Silly. And the second post... my subject title was for you... inflammatory and uninformed - yes it was a mistake, but unilaterally disengaging may well be a bigger mistake - life is a series of gray things that can rarely be distilled to black and white ... don't fool yourself.
  • give up

    if you think this policy (with the others) will stop every attack and ultimately cause the terrorists to give up on the whole idea, then fair enough.

    If you don't think this policy will make the terrorists give up, then eventually they will succeed.

    Terrorism is a symptom. If you want to stop terrorism you have to eliminate the causes.
  • Basic Questions

    1. NSA is not "listening" present tense. Are they actively recording all calls for possible later research? If they are not "listening" to content as the calls occur, can they listen at a future date?
    2. Can the records maintained by NSA be subpoenaed in other legal actions?
    3. Are the phone calls made from Congress or anyone else automatically exempt?
    4. If all calls with content are being recorded how many years are they retained?
    5. Can a citizen receive under a freedom of information request data on their own phone calls?
    • And most importantly...

      ...are you going to be subject to official harassment because an official suspects you of terrorism on the basis of a statistical model?
      John L. Ries
  • Nobody is listening to your phonecalls

    Then what is ECHELON for? And it has been around for a very long time.
  • Privacy vs Security

    Yes, I, with limits, agree that we cannot expect 100% security and 100% privacy without inconvenience.

    1) 100% security is a joke. Even Nazi Germany failed at this for their own campaign. If you can't even get close to 100% when you're willing to murder and anything else, regardless of laws, how could we ever expect it within anything close to a "free" society? You can't.

    2) 100% privacy is difficult because of what we allow our own government to do. Ignorant voters = ignorant government making ignorant decisions.

    3) Without inconvenience... Whose inconvenience is Obama talking about? Citizens inconvenience or the governments inconvenience by having to follow the laws too? I'm getting a louder message that the government doesn't was to be inconvenienced by having to follow the laws too, so either put them above the laws or let's be sneaky and slip in something to -technically- make what their doing -technically- legal, despite the unethical, immoral actions.

    Privacy is more attainable than security. Inconvenience is life. The voters in this country have dropped the ball many times because they don't think, don't care, or don't know. Better voters means a better government and a better country. Make the country better and you'll make it more secure too. Privacy within the country is essential too. It's certainly critical for trust and trust is critical for a unified society. People who trust each other work better together. Groups who work well together are more effective than those who don't. It's business 101 when you look at it.

    If we the people trust you the government, we the people will be more open about what's going on around us. Bribing people to spy on their neighbors makes even those not doing anything wrong more suspicious and less social.