Amid the furore over the PRISM data-leaking saga in the US, President Barack Obama has insisted that Americans aren’t getting “the complete story” on the program – which reportedly enables the US government to tap directly into the central servers of US-based Internet companies.
Obama told Charlie Rose in a PBS interview that the debate has become cloudy, given that there are tradeoffs in any given program that the US takes on for security purposes.
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“To say there’s a tradeoff doesn’t mean somehow that we’ve abandoned freedom; I don’t think anybody says we’re no longer free because we have checkpoints at airports,” he said.
The gist of the interview has been covered due to the release of a partial transcript by Buzzfeed several hours ago, but one thing notable in the aired interview is that Obama noted the US has to “make decisions about how much classified information and how much covert activity we are willing to tolerate as a society.”
Obama said that because the NSA programs are classified – as they are set up to track down suspected terrorists by culling US phone records and mining data from the servers of major Internet companies – “the public may not fully” understand how they work.
The president emphasized that they have put in place a whole system of checks and balances, and that NSA cannot listen to US citizens’ phone calls and emails, by law and by rule, unless an agency such as the FBI goes to a court and obtains a warrant. There has been “no evidence” that the program has been abused so far, he added.
“What I’ve asked the intelligence community to do is see how much of this we can declassify without further compromising the program,” the president said. “And they are in that process of doing so now so that everything that I’m describing to you today – people, the public, newspapers, etc., can look at. Because frankly, if people are making judgments just based on these slides that have been leaked, they’re not getting the complete story.”
Following the news of PRISM, all of the major tech companies involved have denied involvement – and spoke up on the number of requests made by the US government for data.
Earlier today, Yahoo disclosed that it received between 12,000 and 13,000 requests for user data from US law enforcement agencies between December 2012 and May 2013, while Apple revealed yesterday that the firm received 4,000-5,000 requests in the same period of time. Microsoft revealed Friday that it received 6,000-7,000 requests implicating 31,000-32,000 accounts in the last six months, and hours earlier Facebook revealed its FISA numbers, claiming that up to 19,000 user accounts were queried by the US government.
In the Charlie Rose interview, Obama also said the case of whistleblower Edward Snowden has been referred to the Department of Justice for criminal investigation, as well as possible extradition.
You can find our full PRISM coverage here
Image Credit: Paul Faith via WPA Pool/Getty Images