‘You can’t have 100% security and 100% privacy’: Obama defends NSA’s secret ‘data-mining’ and tries to dismiss it as ‘a modest encroachment’
- PRISM data-mining program was launched in 2007 with approval from special federal judges
- Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, YouTube, Skype, AOL and PalTalk are involved in spying program
- The UK has had access to the PRISM data since at least 2010
- Details of data collection were outlined in classified 41-slide PowerPoint presentation that was leaked by intelligence officer
- PRISM was exposed one day after it was revealed that NSA has been collecting telephone records of Verizon customers
- It is largest anti-terror intelligence-gathering operation since 9/11
PUBLISHED: 20:08 EST, 6 June 2013 | UPDATED: 12:31 EST, 7 June 2013
President Obama delivered a passionate defense on Friday of national security programs that secretly acquire information about Americans’ phone calls, saying criticism of them is all ‘hype.’
‘My assessment and my team’s assessment was that [the programs] help us prevent terrorist attacks and that the modest encroachments on privacy that are involved in getting phone numbers or duration [of calls] without a name attached… It was worth us doing.’
Obama made the remarks at a press conference in response to revelations about two separate programs used to spy on American citizens and foreign nationals. One program involves the collection of U.S. Verizon customers phone records. The other program – dubbed PRISM – allows the government to scour the Internet usage of foreign nationals overseas who use any of nine U.S.-based internet providers such as Microsoft and Google.
‘I think it’s important to understand that you can’t have 100 percent security and then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience,’ Obama said. ‘We’re going to have to make some choices as a society.’
Obama said the PRISM program does not involve monitoring the email content of U.S. citizens or anyone living in the U.S., and he repeatedly stated that both programs – the phone spying and PRISM – have been approved by Congress.
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President Obama delivered a passionate defense on Friday of national security programs that secretly acquire information about Americans’ phone calls
‘You can complain about “big brother” and how this is a potential program run amuck,’ he added, ‘but when you actually look at the details then I think we’ve stuck the right balance’
‘You can complain about “big brother” and how this is a potential program run amuck,’ Obama added, ‘but when you actually look at the details, then I think we’ve stuck the right balance.’
Obama said the programs have plenty of checks in place, including repeated authorizations by Congress and approval by the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Court, to assure no abuses by the government.
‘Nobody is listening to your telephone calls,’ he said. ‘That’s not what this program’s about.’
If U.S. citizens decide they want to axe the programs, Obama ‘welcomes’ that debate, he said. But at the same time, he expressed concern over the fact that the classified programs were leaked to the media.
‘I don’t welcome leaks, because there’s a reason why these programs are classified,’ he said.
The Washington Post reported Friday that for the past six years, U.S. intelligence agencies have been extracting audio, video, photos, e-mails, documents and other information to track people’s movements and contacts.
The Silicon Valley companies involved in the PRISM program are Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, YouTube, Skype, AOL and the lesser known Internet company PalTalk, which has hosted a lot of traffic during the Arab Spring and the on-going Syrian civil war.
The scandal deepened after it emerged that the Silicon Valley Internet giants have been passing the acquired information on to the UK.
The Guardian reported that GCHQ, the UK’s communications intelligence agency, has had access to data collected through PRISM program since at least June 2010, and last year generated 197 intelligence reports from it.
The Guardian also first reported the phone-spying program, through which the NSA has been collecting information on Verizon customers’ phone calls, including call duration and frequency.
The revelations – which are the largest anti-terror intelligence-gathering operation since 9/11 – have placed massive pressure on Obama, who is already reeling from the recent IRS scandal.
I know what you’re doing this summer: This unfortunate picture, taken yesterday as news of the scandal broke, will prove a trifle embarrassing for Barack Obama, whose administration defended the order, calling it ‘a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats’
Classified: The particulars of the PRISM data-mining program have been outlined in a top-secret PowerPoint presentation for senior intelligence analysts, which ended up being leaked
Participants: This graph shows when each of the nine tech companies joined PRISM, with Apple being the latest addition in October 2012
In addition to the names already on the list, the cloud-storage service Dropbox was described as ‘coming soon’ to PRISM.
Twitter, which is known for zealously protecting its users’ privacy, is conspicuous in its absence from the list of Internet companies involved in the data-mining program.
NSA IN THE USA: HOW AGENCY HAS TAPPED ITS OWN CITIZENS
Set up by Harry Truman (pictured) in 1953, The NSA is the eyes and ears of America across the globe, intercepting 1.7 billion emails, phone calls a day’.
It is the the secretive body that serves the military and intelligence communities by collecting all forms of foreign communications to prevent attacks on the US.
It was prohibited by law from intercepting domestic communications without a warrant until George W. Bush issued a caveat in the wake of 9/11 under the controversial ‘terrorist surveillance program’.
Nonetheless, over the years the NSA has been engulfed in a number of wiretapping scandals.
They include President Nixon’s illegal wiretapping, through the NSA, of five members of his national security staff, two newsmen, and a staffer at the Department of Defense in a bid to uncover who was leaking information about his plans for the Vietnam War.
In 2005 it was revealed George W Bush had authorized the NSA to eavesdrop on Americans calling abroad without warrants in a bid to thwart terrorism. he strenuously denied the allegations until he finally conceded he had committed an impeachable offense.
And in 2009, under President Obama, the US Department of Justice acknowledged the NSA had gone beyond its remit in tapping the phonelines of American citizens, including a Congressman but claimed that the acts were unintentional and had since been rectified.
Last month, it was accused of building an £800million cyber base to keep tabs on American citizens.
The state-of-the-art data centre in the Utah desert – codenamed Bumblehive – is intended to bolster online security efforts.
But former employees say it could be used to monitor people’s private emails.
The NSA branded the allegations ‘unfounded’, adding that it remained ‘unwavering’ in its respect for U.S. laws and American citizens’ civil liberties, and noted that it was subject to broad oversight by all three branches of government.
PRISM was launched in 2007 with the blessing of special federal judges under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The Post said that several members of the U.S. Congress were made aware of the classified data-gathering program, but were sworn to secrecy.
All forms of wiretapping of U.S. citizens by the NSA requires a warrant from a three-judge court set up under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act passed in 1978.
But former President George W. Bush issued an executive order shortly after the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York that authorized the NSA to monitor certain phone calls without permission.
The warrantless wiretapping program remained a secret until 2005, when a whistleblower went to the press to reveal the extent of the surveillance.
And although the NSA has strenuously denied acting beyond its surveillance powers, groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have warned that the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) – a bill currently passing through Congress – could dramatically increase the amount of personal data that government agencies have legal access to.
The particulars of today’s revelation were outlined in a top-secret PowerPoint presentation for senior intelligence analysts, which ended up being leaked to The Post and Britain’s The Guardian.
According to The Washington Post, the tech companies are knowingly taking part in PRISM, but The Guardian reported than all nine pleaded ignorance of the program.
In a statement issued by Google, the company said it ‘cares deeply about the security of our users’ data. We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully.
‘From time to time, people allege that we have created a government “back door” into our systems, but Google does not have a back door for the government to access private user data.’
Apple Inc on Thursday said it does not provide any government agency with direct access to its servers, denying a key aspect of a Washington Post report.
‘We have never heard of PRISM,’ Apple spokesman Steve Dowling said. ‘We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer data must get a court order.’
Asked whether Apple joined the NSA-FBI data collection program, Apple declined to comment beyond its brief statement.
According to the Post, maintaining the secrecy of the Silicon Valley giants who have been complicit in the scheme is of utmost importance to the U.S. government.
’98 percent of PRISM production is based on Yahoo, Google and Microsoft; we need to make sure we don’t harm these sources,’ and NSA official wrote in a document obtained by the Post.
PRISM has been described by NSA officials ‘as the most prolific contributor to the president’s Daily Brief’ and the ‘leading source of raw material,’ the Post also reported.
Bombshell: NSA and FBI have been extracting audio, video, photos, e-mails, documents and other data from Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, YouTube, Skype, AOL and PalTalk
Key source: PRISM has been described by NSA officials ‘as the most prolific contributor to the president’s Daily Brief,’ providing analysts with a wealth of ‘raw material’
As a cryptolific intelligence agency of the U.S. Department of Defense, the NSA is responsible for collecting and analyzing foreign communications and foreign signals intelligence. However, the agency allegedly has been using PRISM to target American Internet companies handling the accounts of domestic users on U.S. soil.
Analysts working for the NSA would reportedly pick out bits and pieces of data using search terms to help them zero in on foreign targets, but it is not unusual for American content to become swept in as well.
In practice, if collection managers in the NSA’s Special Source Operation Group, which manages PRISM, have suspicion that their target is a foreign national engaged in terrorism or a spy, they move ahead to draw in all the data from the user’s Facebook account, email inboxes and outboxes, and Skype conversations, which would often net in information on the suspect’s contacts.
Targets: The tech giants involved in involved in PRISM are Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, YouTube, Skype, AOL and the lesser known Internet company PalTalk
The 41-slide PowerPoint presentation outlining PRISM was leaked to the media by a career intelligence officer, which the Post says had ‘firsthand experience with these system, and horror at their capabilities.’
The unnamed whistle-blower reportedly said he was driven by the desire to expose the government’s ‘gross intrusion on privacy.’
‘They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type,’ the officer said.
The bombshell allegations come one day after it was revealed that the NSA has been collecting telephone records of millions of U.S. Verizon customers.
The Obama administration defended the order on Thursday, calling it ‘a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats.’
‘Reprehensible’: Director of National Intelligence James Clapper branded the program ‘reprehensible’ and said it risks Americans’ security
But Director of National Intelligence James Clapper denounced the disclosure of highly secret documents Thursday and sought to set the record straight about how the government collects intelligence about people’s telephone and Internet use.
He called the disclosure of an Internet surveillance program ‘reprehensible’ and said it risks Americans’ security.
He said a leak that revealed a program to collect phone records would affect how America’s enemies behave and make it harder to understand their intentions.
‘The unauthorized disclosure of a top secret U.S. court document threatens potentially long-lasting and irreversible harm to our ability to identify and respond to the many threats facing our nation,’ Clapper said in an unusual late-night statement.
Spying: The NSA has been getting millions of phone records from Verizon on a daily basis for months without any justification for the order, that was only revealed today
At the same time, he moved to correct misunderstandings about both programs, taking the rare step of declassifying some details about the authority used in the phone records program and alleging that articles about the Internet program ‘contain numerous inaccuracies.’
He did not specify what those inaccuracies might be.
At issue is a court order, first disclosed Wednesday by The Guardian newspaper in Britain, that requires the communications company Verizon to turn over on an ‘ongoing, daily basis’ the records of its customers’ calls. Separately, The Washington Post and The Guardian reported Thursday the existence of another program used by the NSA and FBI that scours the nation’s main Internet companies, extracting audio, video, emails and other information.
It comes days after it was revealed that the Washington, D.C. headquarters of the Internal Revenue Service was engaged in targeting tea party groups and other conservative organizations for unfair levels of scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status.
Rep. Darrel lssa, chairman of powerful House Committee of Oversight and Government Reform, made that startling announcement on CNN Sunday morning.
‘As late as last week,’ he said, ‘the [Obama] administration was still trying to say the [IRS targeting scandal] was from a few rogue agents in Cincinnati, when in fact the indication is that they were directly being ordered from Washington.’