President Obama Defends NSA PRISM Program: Tech Community Not Satisfied

 @ryanWneal on June 18 2013 1:07 PM
Obama
In a conference offering details on his second-term management agenda, Obama focused on the importance of using technology to improve government services. Reuters

President Obama went on PBS Monday night to discuss revelations about secret NSA surveillance programs with Charlie Rose. In his own words, Obama defended programs like PRISM and argued that they do not sacrifice freedoms for security:

"Well, in the end, and what I’ve said, and I continue to believe, is that we don’t have to sacrifice our freedom in order to achieve security. That’s a false choice."

Obama compared the NSA programs to DUI checkpoints and airport security, saying these are tradeoffs to ensure safety but don’t take away freedom. The President went on to say that the NSA is not collecting bulk communications from everyday citizens, but that programs like PRISM are narrow in scope and targeted.

"What I can say unequivocally is that if you are a U.S. person, the NSA cannot listen to your telephone calls, and the NSA cannot target your emails … and have not. They cannot and have not, by law and by rule, and unless they — and usually it wouldn’t be “they,” it’d be the FBI — go to a court, and obtain a warrant, and seek probable cause, the same way it’s always been, the same way when we were growing up and we were watching movies, you want to go set up a wiretap, you got to go to a judge, show probable cause….

"So point number one, if you’re a U.S. person, then NSA is not listening to your phone calls and it’s not targeting your emails unless it’s getting an individualized court order. That’s the existing rule."

Reactions to President Obama’s comments have been tepid, especially among the tech community. Several have complained that the President stuck to talking points, and seemed to contradict himself about the NSA’s abilities.

“If it is said that the NSA cannot target emails and listen to phone calls, that is going to etch itself into the public consciousness that the technological apparatus required is not present,” a user with the handle “BobWaycott” wrote in a point-by-point rebuttal on Hacker News. “But the follow up clarifies in nearly identical language that the NSA is not listening/targeting "unless it's getting an individualized court order." So now we are at the opposite side--the NSA can target your emails and listen to your phone calls, despite the aforementioned clarification they cannot.”

You can read a portion of interview transcript here, the trending rebuttal here.

What do you think about President Obama’s comments on the NSA surveillance programs? Let us know in the comments section.

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