Barack Obama defends US surveillance tactics

Barack Obama defends US surveillance tactics


iticising the surveillance as an
unlawful intrusion and many in Congress
defending the programmes as appropriate
counter-terrorism tools. 'Healthy scepticism' On Wednesday night, the UK's Guardian
newspaper reported a secret court had ordered
phone company Verizon to hand over to the NSA
millions of records on telephone call "metadata". That report was followed by revelations in both
the Washington Post and Guardian that the NSA
tapped directly into the servers of nine internet
firms including Facebook, Google, Microsoft and
Yahoo to track online communication in a
programme known as Prism. In California on Friday, Mr Obama noted both NSA
programmes had been authorised repeatedly by
Congress and were subject to continual oversight
by congressional intelligence committees and by
secret intelligence courts. The president said he had come into office with a
"healthy scepticism" of both programmes, but
after evaluating them and establishing further
safeguards, he decided "it was worth it". "You can't have 100% security, and also then
have 100% privacy and zero inconvenience," Mr
Obama said. Acknowledging "some trade-offs involved", he
said, "We're going to have to make some
choices." Senior US Senator Dianne Feinstein confirmed on
Thursday that the Verizon phone records order
published by the Guardian was a three-month
extension of an ongoing request to Verizon.
Intelligence analysts say there are likely similar
orders for other major communications firms. The data requested includes telephone numbers,
calling card numbers, the serial numbers of
phones used and the time and duration of calls. It
does not include the content of a call or the
callers' addresses or financial information. Prism was reportedly developed in 2007 out of a
programme of domestic surveillance without
warrants that was set up by President George W
Bush after the 9/11 attacks. Prism reportedly does not collect user data, but is
able to pull out material that matches a set of
search terms. James Clapper, director of US national intelligence,
said in a statement on Thursday the internet
communications surveillance programme was
"designed to facilitate the acquisition of foreign
intelligence information concerning non-US
persons located outside the United States". "It cannot be used to intentionally target any US
citizen, any other US person, or anyone located
within the United States," he added. 'Assault on Constitution' But while US citizens were not intended to be the
targets of surveillance, the Washington Post says
large quantities of content from Americans are
nevertheless screened in order to track or learn
more about the target. The Prism programme has become a major
contributor to the president's daily intelligence
briefing and accounts for almost one in seven
intelligence reports, it adds. Mr Clapper said the programme, under Section
702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act,
was recently reauthorised by Congress after
hearings and debate. In Congress, reaction to the revelations was split. "When law-abiding Americans make phone calls,
who they call, when they call and where they call
from is private information," said Democratic
Senator Ron Wyden. "As a result of the disclosures that came to light
today, now we're going to have a real debate in
the Congress and the country and that's long
overdue." Republican Senator Rand Paul called the
programmes "an astounding assault on the
Constitution''. But his colleagues Republican Senator Lindsay
Graham and Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein
both defended the phone records practice on
Thursday.

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