Obama Calls NSA Scandal A "Modest Encroachment On Privacy"

I never thought I’d say this, but these days President Obama is sounding a lot like Dick Cheney. Because right before calling the NSA’s enormous, data-mining program a “modest encroachment” on the privacy of American citizens he basically acknowledges that Bush was right about this stuff.

The President was skeptical of these sort of programs when he first came into office, he says, but decided they were ok as long as he’s calling the shot. Which is a big change from pre-presidential candidate Obama, who spoke of these sort of programs as though they were fascism.

It was revealed late Wednesday that the National Security Agency has been collecting the phone records of hundreds of millions of U.S. phone customers. The leaked document first reported by the Guardian newspaper gave the NSA authority to collect from all of Verizon’s land and mobile customers, but intelligence experts said the program swept up the records of other phone companies too. Another secret program revealed Thursday scours the Internet usage of foreign nationals overseas who use any of nine U.S.-based internet providers such as Microsoft and Google.

In his first comments since the programs were publicly revealed this week, Obama said safeguards are in place.

“They help us prevent terrorist attacks,” Obama said. He said he has concluded that prevention is worth the “modest encroachments on privacy.”

Obama said he came into office with a “healthy skepticism” of the program and increased some of the “safeguards” on the programs. He said Congress and federal judges have oversight on the program, and a judge would have to approve monitoring of the content of a call and it’s not a “program run amok.”

“Nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” he said. “That’s not what this program’s about.”

He said government officials are “’’looking at phone numbers and durations of calls.”

“They are not looking at people’s names and they are not looking at content. But by sifting through this so-called metadata they might identify potential leads of people who might engage in terrorism,” Obama said.

President Obama claims they’re not looking at content, but that’s just not accurate. Via the PRISM program, the NSA can read your emails. “They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type,” one source told the Washington Post.

The NSA might not be listening to your phone conversations, but they’re certainly reading your email. And give it time. These things are slippery slopes. “No one’s listening to your phone calls yet, but give the public a few years to get used to this latest intrusion,” writes Allah.

Also interesting is Obama’s responsibility dodge, claiming that Congress knew all about this program. “When it comes to telephone calls, every member of Congress has been briefed on this program,” Obama said. “With respect to all these programs, the relevant intelligence committees are fully briefed on these programs.”

That comes as a surprise to at least one Democrat, Senator Jeff Merkley from Oregon. Last night North Dakota Senator John Hoeven, too, said to his knowledge the Senate wasn’t briefed on any of this.

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Most interesting, though, is the premise President Obama is putting this debate in. If we want security, “we have to make choices as a society,” he said. “It’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience.”

The idea that 100% security is even possible is nonsense, and have we seen evidence that these highly intrusive measures are any more effective than less intrusive counter-terrorism measures?

Look at the TSA, for an example. Getting on an airplane these days means a pretty high likelihood of having some rubber-gloved bureaucrat touch your naughty bits. But how many terror plots has the TSA stopped? Exactly zero.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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