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

Photogallery South Africa Bans Travelers From Ebola-stricken Countries

South Africans returning from affected West African countries will be thoroughly screened, required to fill out medical questionnaire, health minister says More

Multimedia UN Launches ‘Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years’ in Iraq

Move aims to help thousands of Iraqi religious minorities who fled their homes as Kurdish, Iraqi government forces battle Sunni insurgents More

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

IT specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about disease 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.
African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebolai
X
George Putic
August 20, 2014 8:57 PM
While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls for Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid