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

Lion Cecil's Killing Sparks 'Canned Hunting' Debate in S. Africa

Conservationists believe incident, which triggered worldwide outrage, will reshape debate about practice in which hunters are allowed to target animals bred for hunting More

Taliban's New Leader Says Jihad Will Continue

Top US Afghan diplomat also meets with Pakistani, Afghan officials following news of Mullah Omar's death More

Environmentalists Issue Warning on Mekong Biodiversity

Scientists say decades of economic development, hydropower-dam construction, lax law enforcement and trafficking have taken their toll 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.
Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missionsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
July 30, 2015 8:59 PM
Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.

VOA Blogs