But defenders of the programs from both parties countered that the programs were carefully monitored already by both Congress and the courts, and struck a reasonable balance between civil liberties and pursuing terrorists.
"It's a careful balance between individual liberties and responsibilities," McCain said. "I believe that the FISA court system is an appropriate way of reviewing some of these policies."
Are people just not thinking about possible consequences?
People engaged in alleged crimes somehow don't recognize that capturing what they're doing on the Internet might trip them up, said Jack Levin, a criminology professor and co-director of Northeastern University's Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict.
"Many criminal acts are committed on the Internet simply because of the illusion that it gives of anonymity. It's a fallacy, and completely delusional. But so are they," Levin said. "The distinction between public and private has been lost, thanks to the Internet."
Such surveillance environments drastically undermine our own ability to criticize similar and worse abuses by other countries. And here at home, the "you have nothing to fear from surveillance if you have nothing to hide" argument does not play well with most honest Americans. Faith in cloud computing and storage models -- which I feel are enormously important to us all in so many ways and bring with them vast benefits to consumers -- are predicated on users trusting that their cloud data will be at least as safe from government abuses as their data would be on their own local hard drives.
The rise of ubiquitous encryption will over time likely be unstoppable, and will change the face of these issues in major ways that we cannot predict with confidence.
We can, however, predict with considerable assurance that any government and any officials -- regardless of political parties -- who insist on treating the American people as suspects, as ignorant children whose personal data should be available to government prying merely at its beck and call, are ultimately helping to destroy critical underpinnings of what has made this country great.
If we continue to permit this, the ultimate fault and blame will not be with our government or our leaders, but rather with ourselves.
Such surveillance environments drastically undermine our own ability to criticize similar and worse abuses by other countries.
The US has never been shy of hypocritically criticizing others for what they are much worse at.
You brag about how free y'all are, how you are 'government by the people', how you are this and that with no connection to reality.
Mr. Udall, who for years has criticized electronic data collection by the government as too sweeping, called for a reopening of debate over the Patriot Act and a “fulsome debate” on the limits of government intrusion as it seeks to deter terrorist threats.
Does that mean that US authorities can retrieve German data without contacting German officials?
That is absolutely correct: US security agencies can access data stored on servers of American service providers, like Yahoo, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, or Google, and use it for intelligence purposes.
Are German authorities doing the same thing in Germany?
German authorities are definitely not allowed to do anything like that. Such behavior is neither anchored in German law, nor has it been judged acceptable by the Constitutional Court. Therefore, one has to assume that basic rights, especially the right to data protection, are worth less in the US than in Europe. You can also rely on German companies and authorities to be more law-abiding..
US authorities are justifying the automatic data gathering with the war on terror. Is that not a good reason for you?
I don't think that 100 percent of the population under surveillance can contribute something to fighting terrorism. In Europe, we are approaching this issue in a smarter way, by investigating based on suspicions only. I think this is the sole way to overcome terrorism that is in accordance with basic human rights.
And Parkinson's Law was cited by one expert as the explanation for the PRISM business. That the data is being collected for no other reason than that it can be, he said.
the last years of criticizing the Chinese and others for lack of transparency sure looks different now doesn't it...
Government officials also had sharp words for whoever leaked the documents describing classified surveillance programs to The Guardian and The Washington Post. In an interview with NBC News, James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, warned that the revelations could create serious risks to national security.
“I think we’re very, very concerned about it,” he said in the interview, taped on Saturday. “For me, it is literally – not figuratively – literally gut-wrenching to see this happen, because of the huge, grave damage it does to our intelligence capabilities.”
Representative Mike Rogers, chairman of the House intelligence committee, spoke with barely disguised anger about Glenn Greenwald, whose articles in the Guardian newspaper last week described the surveillance programs. He also said that the public needed to know that “the National Security Agency does not listen to Americans’ phone calls, and it is not reading Americans’ e-mails. None of these programs allow that.”
Mr. Greenwald “says that he’s got it all and now is an expert on the program,” Mr. Rogers said on the ABC program “This Week.” “He doesn’t have a clue how this thing works. Neither did the person” – presumably in government – “who released just enough information to literally be dangerous.”
He added, “I absolutely think they should be prosecuted.”
Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, said on the same program that she agreed.
Mr. Greenwald, who appeared earlier on the program, was asked about the criminal report that officials say has been filed in this case by the National Security Agency. Asked whether law enforcement officials had contacted him, he said: “No. And any time they would like to speak to me, I would be more than happy to speak to them, and I will tell them there is this thing called the Constitution.”
Asked about suggestions that the disclosures were reckless, Mr. Greenwald responded, “The only thing we’ve endangered is the reputation of the people in power who are building this massive spying apparatus absent any accountability.”
He would not be drawn to offer any description of his source or sources, or to confirm reports that the person or persons were current or former career government officials.
But he said a whistleblower would have risked career and freedom only because “what they were seeing being done in secret inside the United States government is so alarming and so pernicious.”
Ms. Feinstein, a Democrat of California who defends the surveillance programs, cited two declassified cases in which electronic surveillance data had been used – that of David C. Headley, an American who conducted several missions to Mumbai, India, in preparation for a deadly terror attack there, and that of Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan-American who was convicted of seeking to set off backpacks full of explosives in the New York subway. The Mumbai attack was carried out and killed more than 160 people; the subway attack was foiled.
Ms. Feinstein said that she would consider holding hearings about them. “I’m open to doing a hearing every month, if that’s necessary,” she said.
But, she added: “Here’s the rub: The instances where this has produced good – has disrupted plots, prevented terrorist attacks, is all classified, that’s what’s so hard about this.”
In addition, the fact that all this info about national security operations was apparently recklessly leaked from the inside bothers me very much. I want them to find whoever did it and prosecute that person.
...I don't feel any less "free" because of these revelations about government surveillance, precisely because this sort of spying was made possible by the 'government by the people'--the people handed the government this power with the Patriot Act...
It's not only that the highly classified request was made to and approved by a highly classified court. But the legal interpretation of the 2001 Patriot Act that the court appears to have used was itself classified. In other words, there was no way for the public to know what the courts believed the law to mean. And that reality runs counter to the most basic principles of democracy and the rule of law.
In a democracy, the laws are and must be public. Our representatives pass them and our executive branch puts them into effect publicly -- and, ordinarily, the courts supervise both those processes in public as well. Limited exceptions are appropriate when the government is getting a warrant, so that the target of an investigation doesn't have advance warning. But in criminal cases, at least, the target will be able to challenge the legality of the warrant later, when he is charged.
National security cases are more complicated. Often there will never be a trial, so no public challenge to legality is likely. That leaves it to telecommunications providers like Verizon to bring challenges. This isn't perfect -- corporate interests are different from individual ones -- but it is better than nothing. And, in principle, it shouldn't be deeply troubling when a specially cleared court considers whether a secret government request complies with the law.
What happened in this case is different -- and much more threatening to democratic values. Section 215 of the Patriot Act says the government can order turnover of "any tangible things" for an investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine spying, provided only that the activities under investigation aren't solely protected by the First Amendment. Read narrowly, this language might require that information requested be shown to be important or necessary to the investigation. Read widely, it would include essentially anything even slightly relevant -- which is to say, everything. Like metadata for every call every day and every second in the U.S.
When the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court granted the order here -- and there must surely be similar orders for all the other telecom carriers -- it appears to have applied the broadest possible reading of the law. That reading might be correct. But the problem is that we had no way of knowing it was even in effect.
A law only exists as it is interpreted by the courts. In fact, as Oliver Wendell Holmes famously put it, you could define law as nothing other than a prediction of what the courts will do. So when courts interpret the law, they are in practical effect making the law by saying what the law is.
That is why legal interpretation needs to be public -- because it has the same effect as lawmaking. When it is secret, we have in effect secret law. And secret laws don't belong in democratic systems. Countries that have them don't even have the rule of law. They have rule by law, which is a very different thing, when the law isn't supervised by the people but is rather used to manage and control them.
The trend of secret legal interpretations goes back to the George W. Bush administration's secret torture and wiretapping memos, which advanced outrageous constitutional and statutory claims. It extends through the secret memo from Barack Obama's legal team authorizing drone strikes to kill U.S. citizens based on executive branch "due process." The Verizon example involves a court, but it belongs to this tradition.
We should recognize that while facts may be kept secret and the application of law to facts might also be a secret task some of the time, the meaning of the law itself must always be public. Only then can We the People make sure we think it is being interpreted correctly.
The alternative to public law is the end of democratic supervision. And when that happens, well, the result is that the government keeps tabs on all calls in the U.S. All of them.
(Noah Feldman, a law professor at Harvard University and the author of the forthcoming “Cool War: The Future of Global Competition,” is a Bloomberg View columnist.
i think who ever kept this info secret should be prosecuted...we must know what our government is doing to us before we can consent to it.
It is not the business or right of the government to treat the people as a pool of potential suspects and pry into the affairs of citizens who have not given specific cause for the government to believe that they are involved in a crime.
That whole civil liberties thing seems to have passed you by...
Good advice. Always use cash
Make all important phone calls from public phones only. Don't use e-mails; rely on the good ole P.O. instead.