Congress was also outraged and voted to defund the program. Some aspects of it were continued under the revised name of "Terrorism Information Awareness." Apparently, under the Obama administration, and with enhanced technology, some aspects of the original ambitious program have been resurrected, though just how much is getting muddy from all the oppositional rhetoric.
That we are collecting data should come as no surprise to us, despite the furor of the "leak" to the Guardian newspaper. There is a blurb from over a year ago readily available on the internet, which says that AG Eric Holder signed new guideline that would "relax restrictions on how counterterrorism analysts may retrieve, store, and search information about Americans gathered by government agencies for purposes other than national security threats" (CLG Breaking News and Commentaryll, March 12, 2012).
So how come, all of a sudden, this is a scandal?
President Obama today addressed these questions in a speech given in San Jose, CA where he is meeting with the Chinese leader:
"The programs are secret in the sense that they are classified. They are not secret, in that every member of Congress has been briefed. . . These are programs that have been authored by large bipartisan majorities repeatedly since 2006. . . .
"I don't welcome leaks. . . . There's a reason these programs are classified."
Portraying the programs as a trade-off between security and civil liberties, he said:
"Some of the hype we've been hearing over the past day or so -- nobody has listened to the content of people's phone calls. . . I welcome this debate and I think it's healthy for our democracy."
"I think it's important to recognize that you can't have 100 percent security, and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience. We're going to have to make some choices as a society. . . . . I don't welcome leaks."I have to admit, I am less horrified to have it coming from the Obama administration than I was when it was the Bush administration. That's because I trust Obama and I don't trust Cheney/Bush. But . . . truth be told . . .things like this ought to be decided on principle, not on the basis of who is in office.
So let's revisit the underlying problem of deciding the balance between our need for security in a threatening world and our commitment to individual freedom and privacy. It's not just about mining phone records. It's about airport security, border security, shipping and dock security, mail security. How much freedom will we give up; and how much surveillance will we tolerate to be secure?