News / USA

Americans Weigh Balance Between Privacy, Security

In this April 18, 2013, photo sophomore Mike Ziehr looks at his computer in the student union at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
In this April 18, 2013, photo sophomore Mike Ziehr looks at his computer in the student union at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
Americans found out this week that intelligence agencies are tracking nearly every phone call they make. While some lawmakers and experts believe it’s necessary to prevent terrorist attacks, others worry that the country’s intelligence apparatus has grown too large.   

Americans still only have a sketchy idea of how the phone surveillance program works and what it has achieved.

After a closed door meeting with the head of the National Security Agency, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, promised that details of how the phone surveillance program prevented terrorist attacks would be revealed in the coming days.

“So that the American public can see the full spectrum of successes of these programs, while protecting civil liberties and privacy,” said Rogers. "You can do both.”  

Rogers said the program doesn’t monitor phone conversations, but looks for patterns in the “metadata," that is, information on time, date, and numbers called. He labeled the former government contractor who leaked the surveillance program a traitor and rebuked those who consider him a hero.

Edward Snowden, who has been working at the National Security Agency for the past four years, speaking during an interview with The Guardian newspaper at an undisclosed location in Hong Kong, June 6, 2013.Edward Snowden, who has been working at the National Security Agency for the past four years, speaking during an interview with The Guardian newspaper at an undisclosed location in Hong Kong, June 6, 2013.
x
Edward Snowden, who has been working at the National Security Agency for the past four years, speaking during an interview with The Guardian newspaper at an undisclosed location in Hong Kong, June 6, 2013.
Edward Snowden, who has been working at the National Security Agency for the past four years, speaking during an interview with The Guardian newspaper at an undisclosed location in Hong Kong, June 6, 2013.
The individual, Edward Snowden, also disclosed that American Internet companies have been giving the NSA information on foreigners suspected of terrorism.

The disclosure of these programs follows reports that U.S. journalists have had their phones tapped and that the nation’s intelligence apparatus has grown to comprise around five million people with high-level security clearances.

Representative John Conyers of Michigan expressed his misgivings at a House Judiciary Committee hearing. “It’s my fear that we are on the verge of becoming a surveillance state, collecting billions of electronic records on law-abiding Americans every single day,” said Conyers.  

Testifying at the hearing, FBI Director Robert Mueller said all surveillance is conducted in full compliance with the law and with oversight from Congress and the courts.

He said the phone data mining program could have caught the men who carried out the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, because one of them - who was believed to be in the Far East - had actually been placing calls from San Diego to an al-Qaida safe house in Yemen.

“If we had had this program in place, at the time, we would have been able to identify that particular telephone number in San Diego,” Mueller said.  

The failure of intelligence agencies to pick up the trail of the hijackers who flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon has led to an overreach that is now being corrected, said Rudy deLeon, a national security expert at the Center for American Progress.

“So the pendulum is constantly moving and I think right now between our leaders in Congress, between the president and between the leaders on the national security side, we’re having an appropriate debate on where that pendulum rests right now,” he added.

But Steve Bucci of the Heritage Foundation worries that the outcome of the debate could weaken America’s defenses.

“That we might back off, in my opinion, too much, and therefore make ourselves more vulnerable in the long term as well by taking some of these tools out of the hands of our intelligence apparatus so that we in the long term can’t stop people we might have stopped before,” said Bucci.

On Wednesday, the NSA chief, Gen. Keith Alexander, said that the phone surveillance program had prevented dozens of terrorist attacks, both in the U.S. and abroad, but declined to give details.

Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.

You May Like

Kurdish President: More Needed to Defeat Islamic State

In interview with VOA's Persian Service, Massoud Barzani says peshmerga forces have not received weapons, logistical support needed to successfully fight IS in northern Iraq More

Sierra Leone's Stray Dog Population Doubles During Ebola Crisis

Many dog owners fear their pets could infect them with the virus and have abandoned them, leading to the increase and sparking fears of rabies More

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

New methods for mapping pain in the brain not only validate sufferers of chronic pain but might someday also lead to better treatment More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Dee from: Nashua, NH, U.S.A.
June 16, 2013 6:05 PM
I agree with you, Kitagawa (if I may address you that way. If I am incorrect, I do apologize). There are still no efficient rules and regulations in place for the Internet/World Wide Web. As a result, governments, who have been monitoring (aka 'spying') on each other for years, can do as they please. The same applies to terrorist groups, who have also been in existence for quite some time. Everyone played by different rules prior to the invention of the Internet and, without proper regulation, we are like children in a candy store run amok! Until the computer gurus of the World create a method for monitoring that addresses this issue, one that cannot be compromised, behavior such as what we are seeing will continue to occur. It is the nature of the beast, I’m afraid.

I must also say I find a tad hypocritical the indignation voiced by many elected officials in the United States, particularly our Republican lawmakers. Governments around the World have been ‘spying’ on each other for centuries. The difference here is that the veil of secrecy in which 'monitoring' cloaks itself was lifted for all to see. That is, of course, if what Mr. Snowden says can be believed - he may be lying, as well. Call me cynical, but I would not be surprised if it was discovered that Mr. Snowden’s ‘disclosure’ was merely a distraction planted by President Obama opponents to embarrass him. Unfortunately, we sometimes behave like that in America. We try to destroy each other, rather than taking the high road, resolve our differences, and work for the good of all. Our Senate and House members are the embarrassment here. They did not need a ‘Mr. Snowden’ to show that to the World. Our elected officials should only look to themselves as the culprits of any bad behavior.

by: Kitagawa Keikoh from: Nakame, JPN
June 15, 2013 7:31 PM
I think the key point of the phone surveillance program is how to make software which track and survey tens of thousands phone calls automatically.

They can check suspicious phone calls at the first time but soon terrorists will find other way to avoid tracked.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Paini
X
Shelley Schlender
April 20, 2015 7:03 PM
Pain has a purpose - it can stop you from touching a flame or from walking on a broken leg. As an injury heals, the pain goes away. Usually. But worldwide, one out of every five people suffers from pain that lasts for months and years, leading to lost jobs, depression, and rising despair when medical interventions fail or health experts hint that a pain sufferer is making it up. From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Italy Rescues Migrants After Separate Deadly Capsize Incident

Italy continued its massive search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean Monday for the capsized boat off the coast of Libya that was carrying hundreds of migrants, while at the same time rescuing Syrian migrants from another vessel off the coast of Sicily. Thirteen children were among the 98 Syrian migrants whose boat originated from Turkey on the perilous journey to Europe.
Video

Video New Test Set to Be Game Changer in Eradicating Malaria

The World Health Organization estimates 3.4 billion people are at risk of malaria, with children under the age of five and pregnant women being the most vulnerable. As World Malaria Day approaches (April 25), mortality rates are falling, and a new test -- well into the last stage of trials -- is having positive results in Kenya. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA from Nairobi.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.

VOA Blogs