Political Musings January 18, 2014: Obama defends NSA programs in speech offering reforms

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Obama defends NSA programs in speech offering reforms

By Bonnie K. Goodman

In a speech that Americans have been waiting more than six months for President Barack Obama announced changes to the National Security Agency (NSA) mass surveillance programs on Friday, Jan. 17, 2013. President Obama delivered his 45-minute speech at…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency January 17, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech on National Security Agency’s NSA Surveillance Programs Reforms

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

President Obama Discusses U.S. Intelligence Programs at the Department of Justice

Remarks by the President on Review of Signals Intelligence

Source: WH, 1-17-14

Watch the Video

President Obama Speaks on U.S. Intelligence Programs
January 17, 2014 3:28 PM

President Obama Speaks on U.S. Intelligence Programs

President Barack Obama delivers remarks presenting the outcome of the Administration's review of the NSA and U.S. signals intelligence programsPresident Barack Obama delivers remarks presenting the outcome of the Administration’s review of the NSA and U.S. signals intelligence programs, at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., Jan. 17, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Department of Justice
Washington, D.C.

11:15 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  At the dawn of our Republic, a small, secret surveillance committee borne out of the “The Sons of Liberty” was established in Boston.  And the group’s members included Paul Revere.  At night, they would patrol the streets, reporting back any signs that the British were preparing raids against America’s early Patriots.

Throughout American history, intelligence has helped secure our country and our freedoms.  In the Civil War, Union balloon reconnaissance tracked the size of Confederate armies by counting the number of campfires.  In World War II, code-breakers gave us insights into Japanese war plans, and when Patton marched across Europe, intercepted communications helped save the lives of his troops.  After the war, the rise of the Iron Curtain and nuclear weapons only increased the need for sustained intelligence gathering.  And so, in the early days of the Cold War, President Truman created the National Security Agency, or NSA, to give us insights into the Soviet bloc, and provide our leaders with information they needed to confront aggression and avert catastrophe.

Throughout this evolution, we benefited from both our Constitution and our traditions of limited government.  U.S. intelligence agencies were anchored in a system of checks and balances — with oversight from elected leaders, and protections for ordinary citizens.  Meanwhile, totalitarian states like East Germany offered a cautionary tale of what could happen when vast, unchecked surveillance turned citizens into informers, and persecuted people for what they said in the privacy of their own homes.

In fact, even the United States proved not to be immune to the abuse of surveillance.  And in the 1960s, government spied on civil rights leaders and critics of the Vietnam War.  And partly in response to these revelations, additional laws were established in the 1970s to ensure that our intelligence capabilities could not be misused against our citizens.  In the long, twilight struggle against Communism, we had been reminded that the very liberties that we sought to preserve could not be sacrificed at the altar of national security.

If the fall of the Soviet Union left America without a competing superpower, emerging threats from terrorist groups, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction placed new and in some ways more complicated demands on our intelligence agencies.  Globalization and the Internet made these threats more acute, as technology erased borders and empowered individuals to project great violence, as well as great good.  Moreover, these new threats raised new legal and new policy questions.  For while few doubted the legitimacy of spying on hostile states, our framework of laws was not fully adapted to prevent terrorist attacks by individuals acting on their own, or acting in small, ideologically driven groups on behalf of a foreign power.

The horror of September 11th brought all these issues to the fore.  Across the political spectrum, Americans recognized that we had to adapt to a world in which a bomb could be built in a basement, and our electric grid could be shut down by operators an ocean away.  We were shaken by the signs we had missed leading up to the attacks — how the hijackers had made phone calls to known extremists and traveled to suspicious places.  So we demanded that our intelligence community improve its capabilities, and that law enforcement change practices to focus more on preventing attacks before they happen than prosecuting terrorists after an attack.

It is hard to overstate the transformation America’s intelligence community had to go through after 9/11.  Our agencies suddenly needed to do far more than the traditional mission of monitoring hostile powers and gathering information for policymakers.  Instead, they were now asked to identify and target plotters in some of the most remote parts of the world, and to anticipate the actions of networks that, by their very nature, cannot be easily penetrated with spies or informants.

And it is a testimony to the hard work and dedication of the men and women of our intelligence community that over the past decade we’ve made enormous strides in fulfilling this mission.  Today, new capabilities allow intelligence agencies to track who a terrorist is in contact with, and follow the trail of his travel or his funding.  New laws allow information to be collected and shared more quickly and effectively between federal agencies, and state and local law enforcement.  Relationships with foreign intelligence services have expanded, and our capacity to repel cyber-attacks have been strengthened.  And taken together, these efforts have prevented multiple attacks and saved innocent lives — not just here in the United States, but around the globe.

And yet, in our rush to respond to a very real and novel set of threats, the risk of government overreach — the possibility that we lose some of our core liberties in pursuit of security — also became more pronounced.  We saw, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, our government engaged in enhanced interrogation techniques that contradicted our values.  As a Senator, I was critical of several practices, such as warrantless wiretaps.  And all too often new authorities were instituted without adequate public debate.

Through a combination of action by the courts, increased congressional oversight, and adjustments by the previous administration, some of the worst excesses that emerged after 9/11 were curbed by the time I took office.  But a variety of factors have continued to complicate America’s efforts to both defend our nation and uphold our civil liberties.

First, the same technological advances that allow U.S. intelligence agencies to pinpoint an al Qaeda cell in Yemen or an email between two terrorists in the Sahel also mean that many routine communications around the world are within our reach.  And at a time when more and more of our lives are digital, that prospect is disquieting for all of us.

Second, the combination of increased digital information and powerful supercomputers offers intelligence agencies the possibility of sifting through massive amounts of bulk data to identify patterns or pursue leads that may thwart impending threats.  It’s a powerful tool.  But the government collection and storage of such bulk data also creates a potential for abuse.

Third, the legal safeguards that restrict surveillance against U.S. persons without a warrant do not apply to foreign persons overseas.  This is not unique to America; few, if any, spy agencies around the world constrain their activities beyond their own borders.  And the whole point of intelligence is to obtain information that is not publicly available.  But America’s capabilities are unique, and the power of new technologies means that there are fewer and fewer technical constraints on what we can do.  That places a special obligation on us to ask tough questions about what we should do.

And finally, intelligence agencies cannot function without secrecy, which makes their work less subject to public debate.  Yet there is an inevitable bias not only within the intelligence community, but among all of us who are responsible for national security, to collect more information about the world, not less.  So in the absence of institutional requirements for regular debate — and oversight that is public, as well as private or classified — the danger of government overreach becomes more acute.  And this is particularly true when surveillance technology and our reliance on digital information is evolving much faster than our laws.

For all these reasons, I maintained a healthy skepticism toward our surveillance programs after I became President.  I ordered that our programs be reviewed by my national security team and our lawyers, and in some cases I ordered changes in how we did business.  We increased oversight and auditing, including new structures aimed at compliance.  Improved rules were proposed by the government and approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.  And we sought to keep Congress continually updated on these activities.

What I did not do is stop these programs wholesale — not only because I felt that they made us more secure, but also because nothing in that initial review, and nothing that I have learned since, indicated that our intelligence community has sought to violate the law or is cavalier about the civil liberties of their fellow citizens.

To the contrary, in an extraordinarily difficult job — one in which actions are second-guessed, success is unreported, and failure can be catastrophic — the men and women of the intelligence community, including the NSA, consistently follow protocols designed to protect the privacy of ordinary people.  They’re not abusing authorities in order to listen to your private phone calls or read your emails.  When mistakes are made — which is inevitable in any large and complicated human enterprise — they correct those mistakes.  Laboring in obscurity, often unable to discuss their work even with family and friends, the men and women at the NSA know that if another 9/11 or massive cyber-attack occurs, they will be asked, by Congress and the media, why they failed to connect the dots.  What sustains those who work at NSA and our other intelligence agencies through all these pressures is the knowledge that their professionalism and dedication play a central role in the defense of our nation.

Now, to say that our intelligence community follows the law, and is staffed by patriots, is not to suggest that I or others in my administration felt complacent about the potential impact of these programs.  Those of us who hold office in America have a responsibility to our Constitution, and while I was confident in the integrity of those who lead our intelligence community, it was clear to me in observing our intelligence operations on a regular basis that changes in our technological capabilities were raising new questions about the privacy safeguards currently in place.

Moreover, after an extended review of our use of drones in the fight against terrorist networks, I believed a fresh examination of our surveillance programs was a necessary next step in our effort to get off the open-ended war footing that we’ve maintained since 9/11.  And for these reasons, I indicated in a speech at the National Defense University last May that we needed a more robust public discussion about the balance between security and liberty.  Of course, what I did not know at the time is that within weeks of my speech, an avalanche of unauthorized disclosures would spark controversies at home and abroad that have continued to this day.

And given the fact of an open investigation, I’m not going to dwell on Mr. Snowden’s actions or his motivations; I will say that our nation’s defense depends in part on the fidelity of those entrusted with our nation’s secrets.  If any individual who objects to government policy can take it into their own hands to publicly disclose classified information, then we will not be able to keep our people safe, or conduct foreign policy.  Moreover, the sensational way in which these disclosures have come out has often shed more heat than light, while revealing methods to our adversaries that could impact our operations in ways that we may not fully understand for years to come.

Regardless of how we got here, though, the task before us now is greater than simply repairing the damage done to our operations or preventing more disclosures from taking place in the future.  Instead, we have to make some important decisions about how to protect ourselves and sustain our leadership in the world, while upholding the civil liberties and privacy protections that our ideals and our Constitution require.  We need to do so not only because it is right, but because the challenges posed by threats like terrorism and proliferation and cyber-attacks are not going away any time soon.  They are going to continue to be a major problem.  And for our intelligence community to be effective over the long haul, we must maintain the trust of the American people, and people around the world.

This effort will not be completed overnight, and given the pace of technological change, we shouldn’t expect this to be the last time America has this debate.  But I want the American people to know that the work has begun.  Over the last six months, I created an outside Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies to make recommendations for reform.  I consulted with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, created by Congress.  I’ve listened to foreign partners, privacy advocates, and industry leaders.  My administration has spent countless hours considering how to approach intelligence in this era of diffuse threats and technological revolution.  So before outlining specific changes that I’ve ordered, let me make a few broad observations that have emerged from this process.

First, everyone who has looked at these problems, including skeptics of existing programs, recognizes that we have real enemies and threats, and that intelligence serves a vital role in confronting them.  We cannot prevent terrorist attacks or cyber threats without some capability to penetrate digital communications — whether it’s to unravel a terrorist plot; to intercept malware that targets a stock exchange; to make sure air traffic control systems are not compromised; or to ensure that hackers do not empty your bank accounts.  We are expected to protect the American people; that requires us to have capabilities in this field.

Moreover, we cannot unilaterally disarm our intelligence agencies.  There is a reason why BlackBerrys and iPhones are not allowed in the White House Situation Room.  We know that the intelligence services of other countries — including some who feign surprise over the Snowden disclosures — are constantly probing our government and private sector networks, and accelerating programs to listen to our conversations, and intercept our emails, and compromise our systems.  We know that.

Meanwhile, a number of countries, including some who have loudly criticized the NSA, privately acknowledge that America has special responsibilities as the world’s only superpower; that our intelligence capabilities are critical to meeting these responsibilities, and that they themselves have relied on the information we obtain to protect their own people.

Second, just as ardent civil libertarians recognize the need for robust intelligence capabilities, those with responsibilities for our national security readily acknowledge the potential for abuse as intelligence capabilities advance and more and more private information is digitized.  After all, the folks at NSA and other intelligence agencies are our neighbors.  They’re our friends and family.  They’ve got electronic bank and medical records like everybody else.  They have kids on Facebook and Instagram, and they know, more than most of us, the vulnerabilities to privacy that exist in a world where transactions are recorded, and emails and text and messages are stored, and even our movements can increasingly be tracked through the GPS on our phones.

Third, there was a recognition by all who participated in these reviews that the challenges to our privacy do not come from government alone.  Corporations of all shapes and sizes track what you buy, store and analyze our data, and use it for commercial purposes; that’s how those targeted ads pop up on your computer and your smartphone periodically.  But all of us understand that the standards for government surveillance must be higher.  Given the unique power of the state, it is not enough for leaders to say:  Trust us, we won’t abuse the data we collect.  For history has too many examples when that trust has been breached.  Our system of government is built on the premise that our liberty cannot depend on the good intentions of those in power; it depends on the law to constrain those in power.

I make these observations to underscore that the basic values of most Americans when it comes to questions of surveillance and privacy converge a lot more than the crude characterizations that have emerged over the last several months.  Those who are troubled by our existing programs are not interested in repeating the tragedy of 9/11, and those who defend these programs are not dismissive of civil liberties.

The challenge is getting the details right, and that is not simple.  In fact, during the course of our review, I have often reminded myself I would not be where I am today were it not for the courage of dissidents like Dr. King, who were spied upon by their own government.  And as President, a President who looks at intelligence every morning, I also can’t help but be reminded that America must be vigilant in the face of threats.

Fortunately, by focusing on facts and specifics rather than speculation and hypotheticals, this review process has given me — and hopefully the American people — some clear direction for change.  And today, I can announce a series of concrete and substantial reforms that my administration intends to adopt administratively or will seek to codify with Congress.

First, I have approved a new presidential directive for our signals intelligence activities both at home and abroad.  This guidance will strengthen executive branch oversight of our intelligence activities.  It will ensure that we take into account our security requirements, but also our alliances; our trade and investment relationships, including the concerns of American companies; and our commitment to privacy and basic liberties.  And we will review decisions about intelligence priorities and sensitive targets on an annual basis so that our actions are regularly scrutinized by my senior national security team.

Second, we will reform programs and procedures in place to provide greater transparency to our surveillance activities, and fortify the safeguards that protect the privacy of U.S. persons.  Since we began this review, including information being released today, we have declassified over 40 opinions and orders of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which provides judicial review of some of our most sensitive intelligence activities — including the Section 702 program targeting foreign individuals overseas, and the Section 215 telephone metadata program.

And going forward, I’m directing the Director of National Intelligence, in consultation with the Attorney General, to annually review for the purposes of declassification any future opinions of the court with broad privacy implications, and to report to me and to Congress on these efforts.  To ensure that the court hears a broader range of privacy perspectives, I am also calling on Congress to authorize the establishment of a panel of advocates from outside government to provide an independent voice in significant cases before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Third, we will provide additional protections for activities conducted under Section 702, which allows the government to intercept the communications of foreign targets overseas who have information that’s important for our national security.  Specifically, I am asking the Attorney General and DNI to institute reforms that place additional restrictions on government’s ability to retain, search, and use in criminal cases communications between Americans and foreign citizens incidentally collected under Section 702.

Fourth, in investigating threats, the FBI also relies on what’s called national security letters, which can require companies to provide specific and limited information to the government without disclosing the orders to the subject of the investigation.  These are cases in which it’s important that the subject of the investigation, such as a possible terrorist or spy, isn’t tipped off.  But we can and should be more transparent in how government uses this authority.

I have therefore directed the Attorney General to amend how we use national security letters so that this secrecy will not be indefinite, so that it will terminate within a fixed time unless the government demonstrates a real need for further secrecy.  We will also enable communications providers to make public more information than ever before about the orders that they have received to provide data to the government.

This brings me to the program that has generated the most controversy these past few months — the bulk collection of telephone records under Section 215.  Let me repeat what I said when this story first broke:  This program does not involve the content of phone calls, or the names of people making calls.  Instead, it provides a record of phone numbers and the times and lengths of calls — metadata that can be queried if and when we have a reasonable suspicion that a particular number is linked to a terrorist organization.

Why is this necessary?  The program grew out of a desire to address a gap identified after 9/11.  One of the 9/11 hijackers — Khalid al-Mihdhar — made a phone call from San Diego to a known al Qaeda safe-house in Yemen.  NSA saw that call, but it could not see that the call was coming from an individual already in the United States.  The telephone metadata program under Section 215 was designed to map the communications of terrorists so we can see who they may be in contact with as quickly as possible.  And this capability could also prove valuable in a crisis.  For example, if a bomb goes off in one of our cities and law enforcement is racing to determine whether a network is poised to conduct additional attacks, time is of the essence.  Being able to quickly review phone connections to assess whether a network exists is critical to that effort.

In sum, the program does not involve the NSA examining the phone records of ordinary Americans.  Rather, it consolidates these records into a database that the government can query if it has a specific lead — a consolidation of phone records that the companies already retained for business purposes.  The review group turned up no indication that this database has been intentionally abused.  And I believe it is important that the capability that this program is designed to meet is preserved.

Having said that, I believe critics are right to point out that without proper safeguards, this type of program could be used to yield more information about our private lives, and open the door to more intrusive bulk collection programs in the future.  They’re also right to point out that although the telephone bulk collection program was subject to oversight by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and has been reauthorized repeatedly by Congress, it has never been subject to vigorous public debate.

For all these reasons, I believe we need a new approach.  I am therefore ordering a transition that will end the Section 215 bulk metadata program as it currently exists, and establish a mechanism that preserves the capabilities we need without the government holding this bulk metadata.

This will not be simple.  The review group recommended that our current approach be replaced by one in which the providers or a third party retain the bulk records, with government accessing information as needed.  Both of these options pose difficult problems.  Relying solely on the records of multiple providers, for example, could require companies to alter their procedures in ways that raise new privacy concerns.  On the other hand, any third party maintaining a single, consolidated database would be carrying out what is essentially a government function but with more expense, more legal ambiguity, potentially less accountability — all of which would have a doubtful impact on increasing public confidence that their privacy is being protected.

During the review process, some suggested that we may also be able to preserve the capabilities we need through a combination of existing authorities, better information sharing, and recent technological advances.  But more work needs to be done to determine exactly how this system might work.

Because of the challenges involved, I’ve ordered that the transition away from the existing program will proceed in two steps.  Effective immediately, we will only pursue phone calls that are two steps removed from a number associated with a terrorist organization instead of the current three.  And I have directed the Attorney General to work with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court so that during this transition period, the database can be queried only after a judicial finding or in the case of a true emergency.

Next, step two, I have instructed the intelligence community and the Attorney General to use this transition period to develop options for a new approach that can match the capabilities and fill the gaps that the Section 215 program was designed to address without the government holding this metadata itself.  They will report back to me with options for alternative approaches before the program comes up for reauthorization on March 28th.  And during this period, I will consult with the relevant committees in Congress to seek their views, and then seek congressional authorization for the new program as needed.

Now, the reforms I’m proposing today should give the American people greater confidence that their rights are being protected, even as our intelligence and law enforcement agencies maintain the tools they need to keep us safe.  And I recognize that there are additional issues that require further debate.  For example, some who participated in our review, as well as some members of Congress, would like to see more sweeping reforms to the use of national security letters so that we have to go to a judge each time before issuing these requests.  Here, I have concerns that we should not set a standard for terrorism investigations that is higher than those involved in investigating an ordinary crime.  But I agree that greater oversight on the use of these letters may be appropriate, and I’m prepared to work with Congress on this issue.

There are also those who would like to see different changes to the FISA Court than the ones I’ve proposed.  On all these issues, I am open to working with Congress to ensure that we build a broad consensus for how to move forward, and I’m confident that we can shape an approach that meets our security needs while upholding the civil liberties of every American.

Let me now turn to the separate set of concerns that have been raised overseas, and focus on America’s approach to intelligence collection abroad.  As I’ve indicated, the United States has unique responsibilities when it comes to intelligence collection.  Our capabilities help protect not only our nation, but our friends and our allies, as well.  But our efforts will only be effective if ordinary citizens in other countries have confidence that the United States respects their privacy, too.  And the leaders of our close friends and allies deserve to know that if I want to know what they think about an issue, I’ll pick up the phone and call them, rather than turning to surveillance.  In other words, just as we balance security and privacy at home, our global leadership demands that we balance our security requirements against our need to maintain the trust and cooperation among people and leaders around the world.

For that reason, the new presidential directive that I’ve issued today will clearly prescribe what we do, and do not do, when it comes to our overseas surveillance.  To begin with, the directive makes clear that the United States only uses signals intelligence for legitimate national security purposes, and not for the purpose of indiscriminately reviewing the emails or phone calls of ordinary folks.  I’ve also made it clear that the United States does not collect intelligence to suppress criticism or dissent, nor do we collect intelligence to disadvantage people on the basis of their ethnicity, or race, or gender, or sexual orientation, or religious beliefs.  We do not collect intelligence to provide a competitive advantage to U.S. companies or U.S. commercial sectors.

And in terms of our bulk collection of signals intelligence, U.S. intelligence agencies will only use such data to meet specific security requirements:  counterintelligence, counterterrorism, counter-proliferation, cybersecurity, force protection for our troops and our allies, and combating transnational crime, including sanctions evasion.

In this directive, I have taken the unprecedented step of extending certain protections that we have for the American people to people overseas.  I’ve directed the DNI, in consultation with the Attorney General, to develop these safeguards, which will limit the duration that we can hold personal information, while also restricting the use of this information.

The bottom line is that people around the world, regardless of their nationality, should know that the United States is not spying on ordinary people who don’t threaten our national security, and that we take their privacy concerns into account in our policies and procedures.  This applies to foreign leaders as well.  Given the understandable attention that this issue has received, I have made clear to the intelligence community that unless there is a compelling national security purpose, we will not monitor the communications of heads of state and government of our close friends and allies.  And I’ve instructed my national security team, as well as the intelligence community, to work with foreign counterparts to deepen our coordination and cooperation in ways that rebuild trust going forward.

Now let me be clear:  Our intelligence agencies will continue to gather information about the intentions of governments — as opposed to ordinary citizens — around the world, in the same way that the intelligence services of every other nation does.  We will not apologize simply because our services may be more effective.  But heads of state and government with whom we work closely, and on whose cooperation we depend, should feel confident that we are treating them as real partners.  And the changes I’ve ordered do just that.

Finally, to make sure that we follow through on all these reforms, I am making some important changes to how our government is organized.  The State Department will designate a senior officer to coordinate our diplomacy on issues related to technology and signals intelligence.  We will appoint a senior official at the White House to implement the new privacy safeguards that I have announced today.  I will devote the resources to centralize and improve the process we use to handle foreign requests for legal assistance, keeping our high standards for privacy while helping foreign partners fight crime and terrorism.

I have also asked my counselor, John Podesta, to lead a comprehensive review of big data and privacy.  And this group will consist of government officials who, along with the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, will reach out to privacy experts, technologists and business leaders, and look how the challenges inherent in big data are being confronted by both the public and private sectors; whether we can forge international norms on how to manage this data; and how we can continue to promote the free flow of information in ways that are consistent with both privacy and security.

For ultimately, what’s at stake in this debate goes far beyond a few months of headlines, or passing tensions in our foreign policy.  When you cut through the noise, what’s really at stake is how we remain true to who we are in a world that is remaking itself at dizzying speed.  Whether it’s the ability of individuals to communicate ideas; to access information that would have once filled every great library in every country in the world; or to forge bonds with people on other sides of the globe, technology is remaking what is possible for individuals, and for institutions, and for the international order.  So while the reforms that I have announced will point us in a new direction, I am mindful that more work will be needed in the future.

One thing I’m certain of:  This debate will make us stronger.  And I also know that in this time of change, the United States of America will have to lead.  It may seem sometimes that America is being held to a different standard.  And I’ll admit the readiness of some to assume the worst motives by our government can be frustrating.  No one expects China to have an open debate about their surveillance programs, or Russia to take privacy concerns of citizens in other places into account.  But let’s remember:  We are held to a different standard precisely because we have been at the forefront of defending personal privacy and human dignity.

As the nation that developed the Internet, the world expects us to ensure that the digital revolution works as a tool for individual empowerment, not government control.  Having faced down the dangers of totalitarianism and fascism and communism, the world expects us to stand up for the principle that every person has the right to think and write and form relationships freely — because individual freedom is the wellspring of human progress.

Those values make us who we are.  And because of the strength of our own democracy, we should not shy away from high expectations.  For more than two centuries, our Constitution has weathered every type of change because we have been willing to defend it, and because we have been willing to question the actions that have been taken in its defense.  Today is no different.  I believe we can meet high expectations.  Together, let us chart a way forward that secures the life of our nation while preserving the liberties that make our nation worth fighting for.

Thank you.  God bless you.  May God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

END
11:57 A.M. EST

Political Headlines August 9, 2013: Live Blog: President Barack Obama’s Pre-Vacation Press Conference on NSA Surveillance & Patriot Act Reforms

POLITICAL HEADLINES

http://historymusings.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/pol_headlines.jpg?w=600

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Live Blog: President Barack Obama’s Pre-Vacation Press Conference

Play video

LIVE VIDEO  President Obama holds a news conference.

President Obama plans to announce efforts to “restore public trust” in surveillance programs that have sparked deep concern after leaks by Edward J. Snowden, the former intelligence contractor, a senior official said Friday….READ MORE

Live Updates: Obama Addresses Surveillance in News Conference

Source: NYT, 8-9-13

Highlights and analysis as President Obama takes questions from the news media on Friday afternoon….READ MORE

Political Transcripts August 9, 2013: Obama Administration White Paper Legal Rationale for NSA Data Surveillance

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

The Legal Rationale for Surveillance

Source: NYT, 8-9-13

The Obama administration on Friday released documents related to the legal basis for surveillance efforts. The document, the first of two expected, below is the Justice Department’s legal memorandum explaining why the government believes it is lawful under a provision of the Patriot Act known as Section 215 for the National Security Agency Justice Department to collect and store logs of every phone call dialed or received in the United States….Related Article »

Political Headlines July 24, 2013: House of Representatives Defeats Effort to Limit NSA Data Gathering in a Vote of 217-205

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

House Defeats Effort to Rein In N.S.A. Data Gathering

Source: NYT, 7-24-13

The 217-205 vote was far closer than expected and displayed the shifting allegiances and fierce lobbying on both sides of the issue….READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency July 17, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Remarks on the Confirmation of Richard Cordray as Director for Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President on the Confirmation of Richard Cordray as Director for CFPB

Source:  WH, 7-17-13

State Dining Room

11:04 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, for decades, the middle class in this country was the engine that powered the economy, and that allowed us to all grow together.  Hard work paid off.  Responsibility was rewarded.  It was that basic bargain that made this country great — that no matter who you are or where you came from, you could make it if you put in enough blood, sweat and tears.

But over time, a winner-take-all philosophy began to take hold and it delivered huge rewards to those at the very top, but left everybody else working harder and harder just to stay afloat.  A lot of families took on more debt just to keep up.  Mortgages were sold that people really didn’t understand and, in some cases, couldn’t afford.  The financial sector was able to make huge bets with other people’s money.  And that strain of irresponsibility eventually came crashing down on all of us.

Now, I ran for President to restore that basic bargain.  I ran because I believed that our economy works best not from the top down, but from the middle out and from the bottom up, where you’ve got a rising, thriving middle class and ladders of opportunity for everybody.

So four years ago, even as we were working on restoring the economy and dealing with the immediate crisis, we also wanted to figure out how do we set new rules for the road to make sure that a few bad apples in the financial sector couldn’t break the law, or cheat consumers, or put the entire economy at risk.

And I was fortunate even when I was running for President to have some friends like Elizabeth Warren, who had already done a lot of academic work on this and had a whole series of ideas about how we might start making sure that consumers were treated better, and as a consequence, take some of the risk out of the system.  And because of those conversations and that work, and because of some terrific efforts by other members in Congress, we were able, for the time in history, to get a consumer watchdog on the job — to look out for the interests of everyday Americans.  And I am very proud to say that last night, Rich Cordray was finally confirmed — (laughter) — by the United States Senate to keep serving as America’s consumer watchdog and as the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  So we’re very pleased about that.  (Applause.)

I first nominated Rich for this position two years ago this week.  (Laughter.)  He was eminently qualified.  He had the support of Democrats and Republicans from across the country.  A majority of state attorneys general from both parties — Rich’s former colleagues — called on him to be confirmed.  And for two years, Republicans in the Senate refused to give Rich a simple yes-or-no vote — not because they didn’t think he was the right person for the job, but because they didn’t like the law that set up the consumer watchdog in the first place.

But without a director in place, the CFPB would have been severely hampered.  And the CFPB wasn’t able to give consumers the information they needed to make good, informed decisions.  Folks in the financial system who were doing the right thing didn’t have much certainty or clear rules of the road.  And the CFPB didn’t have all the tools it needed to protect consumers against mortgage brokers, or credit reporting agencies, or debt collectors who were taking advantage of ordinary Americans.

As a consequence, last year, I took steps on my own to temporarily appoint Richard so he could get to work on their behalf.  And Americans everywhere are better off because he did. And thanks to not only Rich, but his terrific team — I know many are represented here — we’ve made real strides, even despite the fact that the agency was hampered by the confirmation process.

And I would argue that part of the reason we were able to finally get Rich confirmed today is because he’s shown through his leadership and because of the very hard work that everybody at the CFPB has already done that this is making a difference in the lives of the American people — a positive difference day in, day out.  It’s hard to argue with success.

So, yesterday, Richard was officially confirmed.  I want to thank Senators from both parties, including Senator Reid, Senator McConnell, Senator McCain, for coming together to help get Rich confirmed.  And obviously, Elizabeth, who wasn’t a senator when she thought this up, but is now a senator — she was poking and prodding people for a long time — (laughter) — to help make it happen.

Senator Reid’s leadership, in particular, was obviously instrumental in getting this done, and I couldn’t be more grateful to him.

And together, we’re giving Americans a guarantee that the protections they enjoy today will still be around next year, and the year after that, and the year after that, and for years to come.

While we’re on the topic of nominations, I also want to thank the Senate for agreeing to give my other nominees who’ve waited far too long the votes that they deserve.  These are all highly qualified men and women who are just ready to go to work for the American people — for students and for seniors, for veterans, for middle-class families.  Special interests, they’ll always have their lobbyists.  They’ll always have the capacity to tilt the system in their favor.  But middle-class folks deserve leaders who are going to stand up for them as well on a day-to-day basis, in the trenches.

So let me use this opportunity to remind people of what the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under Rich’s leadership can do and has done already, even in some difficult circumstances.

Today, if you want to take out a mortgage or a student loan or a payday loan, or you’ve got a credit reporting agency or debt collector who’s causing you problems — maybe they’re not playing by the rules, maybe they’re taking advantage of you — you have somewhere to go.  The CFPB has already addressed more than 175,000 complaints from all across the nation, giving people an advocate who is working with them when they’re dealing with these financial institutions that may not always be thinking about consumers first.

Today, as part of the CFPB’s “Know Before You Owe” efforts, students and their parents can get a simple report with the information they need before taking out student loans.  And more than 700 colleges have joined to make this information clear and transparent.   It’s making a difference.

And by the way, if you’ve noticed that some credit card forms are becoming easier to understand than they used to be, that’s because of the work of Rich’s team and other folks across this administration have done to make sure that people understand the kinds of debts that they’re taking on through their credit cards.

Today, veterans have access to tools that they need to defend against dishonest lenders and mortgage brokers who try to prey on them when they come home from serving their country.  Today seniors are better protected from someone who sees their homes or their retirement savings as an easy target for get-rich-quick schemes.

And thanks to the hard work of folks at the CFPB, so far    6 million Americans have gotten more than $400 million in refunds from companies that engaged in unscrupulous practices.

So this is not just some abstract, theoretical exercise.  Families, many of them hard-pressed, have money in their pockets, maybe, in some cases, saved a home or were able to send their kids to college, because of the work that Rich and his team is doing right now.  And that’s money that oftentimes families didn’t have the power to recover before.

So Americans are better off because of what Rich has done as our consumer watchdog and his outstanding team is doing each and every day.  And, by the way, that’s just the tangible benefits that we know of, that $400 million in refunds.  But part of what happens is when you’ve got a watchdog, people don’t try as many things.  And everybody starts tightening up their practices because they know somebody is watching.  And so that has ripple effects throughout our economy.

So Americans everywhere are better off because of the work that these folks have done.  And now that Rich has gotten the yes-or-no vote he deserved, businesses and consumers have more certainty than they did before that this will continue.

So we’ve come a long way over the last four and a half years.  Our economy is growing.  Our businesses have created 7.2 million new jobs over the past 40 months.  We’ve locked in new safeguards to protect against another crisis, and we are making sure that we are doing everything we can to change the incentives inside the financial system and try to end tax-funded — taxpayer-funded bailouts for good.  And even though more work remains, our system is fairer and it’s more sound than it was when the crisis hit.

Of course, we’ve still got a long way to go to restore that basic bargain, to restore that sense of security that too many middle-class families still are fighting to rebuild.  But if we just keep letting people like Rich do their jobs, if we let all these incredible young people know that you’re going to keep on going for a long time, you’re building something that will last beyond our government’s service and we’ll be providing protections for generations to come — and if we keep focused on that North Star — a rising, thriving middle class, an economy where prosperity is broad-based — then I’m confident that we’re ultimately going to get to where we need to go.

So I want to thank everybody.  And I just want to give Rich a quick chance to say something.  (Applause.)

MR. CORDRAY:  Thank you.  I want to thank the President — this President, in particular, who has believed in us from the beginning.  I want to thank the Senate and the senators for the chance to persevere and be confirmed as the director of this Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  All I ever asked for, all I ever worked for was to have a chance to have an up-or-down vote on the merits, and I thank them for that.

For nearly two years, as the President indicated, we have been focused on making consumer finance markets work better for the American people.  Today’s action — the action — I was sworn in by the Vice President this morning, and the Senate confirmation — means that there will be certainty for those markets and for the industries we oversee.

For me, it also reaffirms that our central responsibility is to stand on the side of consumers and see that they’re treated fairly, just as the President described it.  It’s something that people deserve.  It’s something that they want and need.  And we’re there to try to provide it.

We will continue that essential work and each one of us — those of us here and those of us in Washington and around the country who work for this new Consumer Bureau, including most especially myself — we’re grateful for the opportunity that you’ve given us to serve our country in this important way.

Thank you.  Thank you, sir.  (Applause.)

END
11:16 A.M. EDT

Political Headlines June 19, 2013: FBI Director Robert Mueller Reveals US Drone Program During NSA Testimony

FBI Chief Reveals US Drone Program

Source: ABC News Radio, 6-19-13

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The FBI does fly spy drones over the U.S. FBI Director Robert Mueller made that admission before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday during his testimony about the National Security Agency surveillance programs.

According to Mueller, the FBI deploys these unmanned planes in “a very minimal way and very seldom” and his bureau is working to develop guidelines for their future use so as to relieve concerns of privacy advocates and civil liberties groups….READ MORE

Political Headlines June 18, 2013: NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander: ‘Over 50′ Terror Plots Foiled by Data Dragnets

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

‘Over 50′ Terror Plots Foiled by Data Dragnets, NSA Director Says

Source: ABC News Radio, 6-18-13

Win McNamee/Getty Images

The director of the National Security Administration on Tuesday told Congress “In recent years, these programs, together with other intelligence, have protected the U.S. and our allies from terrorist threats across the globe to include helping prevent the potential terrorist events over 50 times since 9/11.”

The attacks on would-be targets such as the New York Stock Exchange were prevented by caching telephone metadata and Internet information, including from millions of Americans since Sept. 11, 2001, Gen. Keith Alexander said during a hearing at the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence….READ MORE

Legal Buzz June 18, 2013: Google challenges US gag order, citing First Amendment

LEGAL BUZZ

COURT AND LEGAL NEWS

Google challenges US gag order, citing First Amendment

Source: Washington Post, 6-18-13

Google asked the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on Tuesday to ease long-standing gag orders over data requests it makes, arguing that the company has a constitutional right to speak about information it’s forced to give the government….READ MORE

Political Headlines June 18, 2013: President Barack Obama: Says NSA Spying Programs ‘Transparent’ in Charlie Rose Interview

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

President Obama: NSA Spying Programs ‘Transparent’

Source: ABC News Radio,6-18-13

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

Video of the Interview on Charlie Rose

President Obama said in an interview with PBS’s Charlie Rose on Sunday:

“It is transparent,” Obama said in the interview, broadcast Monday night. “What I’ve asked the intelligence community to do is see how much of this we can declassify without further compromising the program, No. 1,” Obama said. “And they are in that process of doing so now so that everything that I’m describing to you today, people, the public, newspapers, etc., can look at – because, frankly, if people are making judgments just based on these slides that have been leaked, they’re not getting the complete story.”…READ MORE

Political Headlines June 12, 2013: Secretary of State John Kerry Defends NSA Program, ‘Welcomes’ Dept. Scrutiny

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Secretary Kerry Defends NSA Program, ‘Welcomes’ Dept. Scrutiny

Source: ABC News Radio, 6-12-13

State Department photo/ Public Domain

At a joint press conference Wednesday with United Kingdom Foreign Secretary William Hague, Secretary of State John Kerry defended the National Security Agency, saying that Congress understands the program, passed it and voted for it several times. He also said the judiciary branch has also reviewed it and the program and has been actively engaged.

“This is a three-branch-of-government effort to keep America safe. And in fact, it has not read emails or looked at or listened to conversations, and — the exception of where a court may have made some decision, which was predicated on appropriate evidence,” said Kerry….READ MORE

Political Musings June 12, 2013: National Security Agency’s dragnet classified data collection: National security necessity or Orwellian proportion privacy invasion?

POLITICAL MUSINGS

Pol_Musings

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

National Security Agency’s dragnet classified data collection: National security necessity or Orwellian proportion privacy invasion?

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program.

The Obama Administration can add a fourth burgeoning scandal to their second term woes. Last Wednesday June 5, 2013, the Washington Post and the London, UK paper the Guardian revealed the National Security Agency (NSA) along with FBI had been the monitoring all phone and internet records in the United States. The story took an added twist on Sunday, June 9 when Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor responsible for leaking documents from the surveillance program to the press came forward. Now the focus is on two fronts, the violations of rights to privacy in exchange for national security, and the legal fate of the whistleblower.

When the story broke, news headlines first focused on Verizon releasing information relating to all their customers landline and mobile phone calls because of a special and secretive court order.  The data collection focuses on the metadata; telephone numbers, call lengths, locations, and call frequency for all calls within the country and calls abroad dialed within the United States. There have been repeated assurances that the phone calls themselves were not recorded. However, the public was soon informed that the government’s collection was far broader and included internet and social media sites including Yahoo, Google and Facebook.

The administration has justified the data surveillance by stating it is important to national security and has thwarted terrorist attacks in the past. A White House official speaking to ABC News stated the program was “a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States,” but complies “with the Constitution and laws of the United States and appropriately protect privacy and civil liberties.”

The government position is that this revelation to the general public would hinder their ability to protect the public from terrorism.  Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper released a statement which an excerpt read “The unauthorized disclosure of information about this important and entirely legal program is reprehensible and risks important protections for the security of Americans.”

President Barack Obama speaking in California on Friday, June 7 attempted to reassure the public that their phone calls were not being recorded, “Nobody is listening to your telephone calls. They are not looking at people’s names, and they’re not looking at content.  But by sifting through this so-called metadata, they may identify potential leads with respect to folks who might engage in terrorism,” Obama said.

The phone and internet surveillance program known as PRISM has popular support in Congress and there seems there might not be grand scale opposition in either the House of Representatives or the Senate. Chair of the Intelligence Committee Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-CA stated that the records collection was a part of the 2001 Patriot Act and said “It’s called protecting America…. I understand privacy…. we want to protect people’s private rights and that is why this is carefully done.”

President Obamas also made it clear on Friday that although the program was a secret to the public, but there was bipartisan support and knowledge of the data collection program from Congress. “The programs that have been discussed over the last couple 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 stated.  The President continued “The relevant intelligence committees are fully briefed on these programs.  These are programs that have been authorized by broad, bipartisan majorities repeatedly since 2006.”

Speaker of the House John Boehner, a Republican agreed with Obama in an interview on Tuesday morning, June 11with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. “He’s a traitor,” Boehner declared about Snowden’s press leak. Boehner continued; “The disclosure of this information puts Americans at risk.  It shows our adversaries what our capabilities are.  And it’s a giant violation of the law.”

Americans and human rights activists are left pondering can the widespread invasion of privacy sacrificed by the government be justified even for national security, even to prevent a widespread and catastrophic terror attack? The answer was no to Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor who leaked the documents on the PRISM program on the widespread data collection and privacy intrusion.

Snowden first contacted the media in January getting the wheels in motions for the big reveal. Living and working in Hawaii, Snowden took sick leave from his job and then left for Hong Kong, where he was staying at the time the leaks about the NSA was made public last week up until the disclosure Sunday, June 9 that he was the whistleblower.

In his interview with the Guardian Snowden claimed; “I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things … I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.”

As the US government looks into charging Snowden, he has been fired from his contracting job at Booz Allen, and the conversation has veered to countries that would give him asylum. Snowden supporters have created a petition on the White House’s We the People web site stating that “Edward Snowden is a national hero”  and are asking that there be a “full, free, and absolute pardon for any crimes he has committed or may have committed.” As of late Tuesday night, June 11 there are 58,299 signatures, with 41,701 needed for the 100,000 required for a review.

Human rights groups are standing firmly against the data collection, the head of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called the data collection program Orwellian. On Tuesday the ACLU filed a suit in federal court against the Obama Administration challenging the constitutionality of the data collection program.

If there is partisan support for the program there is also bipartisan opposition, former Vice President Al Gore a Democrat, wrote on Twitter “In digital era, privacy must be a priority. Is it just me, or is secret blanket surveillance obscenely outrageous?” While a Republican and Libertarian in Congress such as Senator Rand Paul said it “represents an outrageous abuse of power.”  “It is an extraordinary invasion of privacy…. I also believe that trolling through millions of phone records hampers the legitimate protection of our security,” Paul said on Fox News.

Despite the so-called broad bipartisan support, two bills have been introduced to curb data collection since details of the NSA programs appeared in the media. On Friday June 7, Senator Paul introduced a bill; the Fourth Amendment Restoration Act, which would make it necessary to obtain a warrant prior to a data search. On Tuesday June 11, eight senators in a bipartisan effort introduced a bill to end and declassify secretive data collection laws. The heavily democratic supported bill has among its ranks Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Republicans Mike Lee, Utah and Dean Heller, Nev.

At this time the public opinions seems more unclear, two conflicting polls released on Monday, June 10 from the Washington Post-Pew Research Center and Tuesday, June 11 from CBS News.

The Washington Post-Pew Research Center seems to find Americans looking favorably on the data collection. According to the poll 56 percent find it “acceptable,” and 41 percent find it “unacceptable” for the government to monitor phone data. When it came to expanding government monitoring internet activity the results differed; 52 percent did not believe it should be expanded versus 45 percent who support collection expansion.

According the CBS News poll 6 in 10 disapproved of the phone data collection program, however Americans strongly approve by three-quarters that terrorist suspects should be monitored and the internet data of foreigners. Still 53 to 40 percent believe this program helps discover terrorists.

Whatever the political fallout will be for the Obama administration and the legal outcome for Snowden there is no doubt that Snowden will be put down among the ranks of the major whistleblowers in American history.

Full Text Political Transcripts June 11, 2013: House Speaker John Boehner’s Interview with George Stephanopoulos on NSA Leak, Immigration Reform And More on ABC News’ Good Morning America — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Transcript: Exclusive Interview With House Speaker John Boehner on NSA Leak, Immigration Reform And More

Source: ABC News, 6-11-13

RELATED: John Boehner Talks NSA Leaks, IRS Scandal and Immigration With George Stephanopoulos

PHOTO: George Stephanopoulos interviews House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in New York, June 10, 2013.

George Stephanopoulos interviews House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in New York, June 10, 2013. (ABC News)

House Speaker John Boehner sat down with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” to discuss the NSA leak, immigration reform, the IRS scandal and much more.

Here is the full transcript of the interview:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Speaker, thank you for doin’ this. Let’s talk first about these– revelations about the National Security Agency. Edward Snowden has come forward, said he brought the documents into the public eye. His supporters say he’s– a whistle-blowing patriot. His critics say he’s betrayed the country, broken the law. Where do you stand?

JOHN BOEHNER: He’s a traitor. The president outlined last week that these were important national security programs to help keep Americans safe, and give us tools– to fight the terrorist threat th– that we face. The president also outlined that there are appropriate safeguards in place– to make sure that– there’s– there’s no– snooping, if you will– on Americans– here at home. But– the disclosure of this information– puts Americans at risk. It shows– our adversaries what our capabilities are. And– it’s a giant violation of the law….READ MORE

Political Headlines June 10, 2013: NSA Leaker Edward Snowden a ‘National Hero’ on White House Petition

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

NSA Leaker a ‘National Hero’ on White House Petition

Source: ABC News Radio, 6-10-13

petitions.whitehouse.gov

Within hours of Edward Snowden’s revealing that he was the source of the National Security Agency surveillance leak last week, thousands of people had signed a petition on the White House website asking for a “full, free, and absolute pardon for any crimes he has committed or may have committed.”….READ MORE

Political Headlines June 10, 2013: Edward Snowden Claims to Be Source of Leaked NSA Documents

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Edward Snowden Claims to Be Source of Leaked NSA Documents

Source: ABC News Radio, 6-10-13

The Guardian via Getty Images

The source of a series of top secret leaks from the National Security Agency has stepped out of the shadows and identified himself as ex-CIA technical assistant Edward Snowden, saying he was standing up against the U.S. government’s “horrifying” surveillance capabilities.

“I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded,” the 29-year-old told the British newspaper The Guardian, which broke the news in a series of headline-grabbing articles on NSA surveillance late last week.  “That is not something I am willing to support or live under.”…READ MORE

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