Obama administration on defensive over surveillance records

An illustration picture shows the logo of the U.S. National Security Agency on the display of an iPhone in Berlin, June 7, 2013. The debate over whether the U.S. government is violating citizens'
Data collection reportedly extends beyond Verizon to companies like Google, Apple and Facebook. Credit: Reuters

Reports of sweeping government surveillance of phone and Internet activity put the Obama administration on the defensive Friday, adding pressure on President Barack Obama to explain why such tactics are necessary.

The Washington Post reported late Thursday that federal authorities have been tapping into the central servers of companies including Google, Apple and Facebook to gain access to emails, photos and other files, allowing analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts.

That added to privacy concerns sparked by a report in Britain’s Guardian newspaper that the National Security Agency had been mining phone records from millions of customers of a Verizon Communications subsidiary.

Obama, who pledged to run the most transparent administration in U.S. history, did not mention the surveillance furor in two meetings with supporters on Thursday evening.

He may be forced to broach the subject during his meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a California summit on Friday, in which U.S. concerns about alleged Chinese hacking of American secrets were expected to be high on the agenda.

Members of Congress are routinely briefed by the NSA on secret surveillance programs, but it is not yet clear how much they knew about the widespread surveillance of private Internet activity reported by the Washington Post.

Rep. Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, said on Friday he thought the administration had good intentions but stressed the program was “just too broad an over-reach.”

“I think there ought to be some connection to suspicion, otherwise we can say that any intrusion on all of our privacy is justified for the times that we will catch the few terrorists,” Waxman told MSNBC. “Good intentions are not enough. We need protections against government intrusion that goes too far.”

PRISM surveillance program

The Washington Post said the surveillance program involving firms including Microsoft, Skype and YouTube, code-named PRISM and established under Republican President George W. Bush in 2007, had seen “exponential growth” under the Democratic Obama administration.

It said the NSA increasingly relies on PRISM as a source of raw material for its intelligence reports.

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said the report contained “numerous inaccuracies,” and some of the companies identified by the Washington Post denied that the NSA and Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) had “direct access” to their central servers.

Microsoft said it does not voluntarily participate in government data collection and only complies “with orders for requests about specific accounts or identifiers.

Erwin Chemerinsky, a law professor at the University of California Irvine, said the program was “deeply disturbing” and went beyond what was constitutionally acceptable.

“It is a huge gathering of information by the federal government. The argument that it protects national security is unpersuasive,” he said.

The White House sought on Thursday to defend the National Security Agency’s secret collection of telephone records from millions of Americans as a “critical tool” to prevent attacks. National Intelligence Director James Clapper said the data was only used in specific investigations of non-U.S. citizens.


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Memorial held for Sean Collier, MIT police officer…

More than 1,600 people gathered at MIT on Friday for a memorial service for Sean Collier, the police officer shot to death a year ago in the aftermath of the…

National

Florida man charged with murdering son to play…

A Florida man annoyed that his 16-month-old crying son was preventing him from playing video games suffocated the toddler, police said on Friday.

International

Powerful 7.2 magnitude earthquake rattles Mexico

A powerful earthquake struck Mexico Friday, shaking buildings and sending people running into the street, although there were no reports of major damage.

News

OMG! Exercise can make skin (and butt) look…

A moderate exercise regime can turn back time and actually reverse the skin's aging process, according to new research. The study showed that a minimum…

Entertainment

Whoopi Goldberg makes her debut as marijuana columnist

"It helps my head stop hurting, and with glaucoma your eyes ache, and she takes the ache out. It's wonderful," she said.

The Word

Kate Middleton made fun of Prince William's bald…

Kate Middleton and Prince William are in Sydney, Australia, right now, and it sounds like that brash Aussie sense of humor might be rubbing off.

The Word

Is Tom Cruise dating Laura Prepon?

"Mission: Impossible" star Cruise is said to be dating Laura Prepon, star of "Orange is the New Black."

Television

'Scandal' recap: Season 3, Episode 18, 'The Price…

Sally is Jesus, Olivia caused global warming, and Mellie's still drunk. Let's recap the Scandal finale. A church full of Washington insiders is about to…

MLB

MLB video highlights: Red Sox score two in…

Lester shines in Red Sox win over White Sox

Sports

2014 Boston Marathon preview: Elite American, International runners…

2014 Boston Marathon: Elite American, International runners to watch

NBA

2014 NBA Finals odds: Ranking which playoff teams…

2014 NBA Finals odds: Ranking which playoff teams have the best shot at a championship. The Thunder, Clippers, Heat and Rockets lead the way.

NFL

2014 Patriots, full NFL schedule release date announced

2014 Patriots, full NFL schedule release date announced

Tech

VIDEO: 'Vein-scanning' may become the future of paying

Designed to make transactions quicker and easier, the technology works by scanning the unique vein patterns in each person's palm.

Tech

#FollowFriday: 10 of the smartest Twitter accounts

Spending lots of time on Twitter? You might as well learn something. Here are some of the smartest accounts to follow.

Style

Light-up nail art syncs with phone

This Japanese technology syncs light-up nail art with your phone.

Wellbeing

Why is dance cardio taking off in NYC?

Instructors at some of the city's hottest classes explain why.