Senate Insider: We Can't Be Satisfied with Obama's 'Vague Promises' on Secret Laws and Domestic Spying
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As President Obama proposed a series of changes to reform the government’s surveillance policies and programs, we speak to Jennifer Hoelzer, the former deputy chief of staff for Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, a longtime critic of the Obama administration for using a secret interpretation of the USAPATRIOT Act to allow the NSA to conduct domestic surveillance. "Unfortunately Edward Snowden was the only means by which we have been able to have this debate," Hoelzer says. "We, working for Senator Wyden, did everything to try to encourage the administration to bring these facts to light. We’re not talking about sources and methods, we’re not talking about sensitive materials, we’re talking about what they believed the law allows them to do." Meanwhile, The Guardian newspaper has revealed the National Security Agency has a secret backdoor into its vast databases to search for email and phone calls of U.S. citizens without a warrant. According to documents leaked by Edward Snowden, NSA operatives can hunt for individual Americans’ communications using their name or other identifying information.
AMY GOODMAN: The Guardian newspaper has revealed the National Security Agency has a secret backdoor into its vast databases to search for email and phone calls of U.S. citizens without a warrant. According to documents leaked by Edward Snowden, NSA operatives can hunt for individual Americans’ communications using their name or other identifying information. The Guardian published the article on Friday just hours before President Obama held a news conference about the NSA. While Obama repeatedly defended the NSA’s surveillance operations, he outlined four proposals for reforming the programs.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I will work with Congress to pursue appropriate reforms to Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, the program that collects telephone records. As I’ve said, this program is an important tool in our effort to disrupt terrorist plots, and it does not allow the government to listen to any phone calls without a warrant. But given the scale of this program, I understand the concerns of those who would worry that it could be subject to abuse. So after having a dialogue with members of Congress and civil libertarians, I believe that there are steps we can take to give the American people additional confidence that there are additional safeguards against abuse. For instance, we can take steps to put in place greater oversight, greater transparency, and constraints on the use of this authority. So I look forward to working with Congress to meet those objectives.
Second, I will work with Congress to improve the public’s confidence in the oversight conducted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, known as the FISC. TheFISC was created by Congress to provide judicial review of certain intelligence activities so that a federal judge must find that our actions are consistent with the Constitution. However, to build greater confidence, I think we should consider some additional changes to the FISC. One of the concerns that people raise is that a judge reviewing a request from the government to conduct programmatic surveillance only hears one side of the story, may tilt it too far in favor of security, may not pay enough attention to liberty. And while I’ve got confidence in the court and I think they’ve done a fine job, I think we can provide greater assurances that the court is looking at these issues from both perspectives—security and privacy. So, specifically, we can take steps to make sure civil liberties concerns have an independent voice, in appropriate cases, by ensuring that the government’s position is challenged by an adversary.
Number three, we can and must be more transparent. So I’ve directed the intelligence community to make public as much information about these programs as possible. We’ve already declassified unprecedented information about the NSA, but we can go further. So, at my direction, the Department of Justice will make public the legal rationale for the government’s collection activities under Section 215 of the PATRIOTAct. The NSA is taking steps to put in place a full-time civil liberties and privacy officer, and released information that details its mission, authorities and oversight. And, finally, the intelligence community is creating a website that will serve as a hub for further transparency. And this will give Americans and the world the ability to learn more about what our intelligence communities does and what it doesn’t do, how it carries out its mission, and why it does so.