During U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech in Berlin, Germany, he attempted to defend the massive surveillance program run by the National Security Agency (NSA), a program which was heavily criticized in Europe.
Interestingly, the NSA reportedly focused their efforts on Germany more than any other country according to German news outlet Deutsche Welle.
Despite Obama’s attempts to downplay the seriousness of the program – something many in Washington have been attempting to do – Germany is still apparently concerned with the U.S. program.
While German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters that she appreciates the U.S. working with Germany on cybersecurity issues, she will continue to talk with American officials about the “question of balance or proportionality” of government snooping on the Internet, according to CNN.
Obama continued to repeat the claim that “this is not a situation in which we are rifling through the ordinary e-mails of German citizens or American citizens,” but is instead a “circumscribed, narrow system, directed at us being able to protect our people, and all of it is done under the oversight of the courts.”
“We welcome these debates. This is what democracy is about,” Obama said.
“We do have to strike a balance. We do have to be cautious about how our governments operate when it comes to intelligence,” Obama added, according to the Huffington Post, echoing his earlier defense of the program.
Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall (D-Ore.), however, argued that the attacks the government has claimed were thwarted by PRISM “appear to have been identified using other collection methods.”
“We have not yet seen any evidence showing that the NSA’s dragnet collection of Americans’ phone records has produced any uniquely valuable intelligence,” the senators said.
“I made clear that although we do see the need for gathering information, the topic of proportionality is always an important one and the free democratic order is based on people feeling safe,” Merkel said, amidst intense criticism in Germany.
“That’s why the question of balance and proportionality is something we will continue to discuss and where we have agreed further exchange of information between the German Interior Ministry and the authorities concerned in the United States,” Merkel said.
Obama said the surveillance programs “help confront real dangers, and they keep people safe here in the United States and here in Europe.”
“But we must accept the challenge that all of us in democratic governments face: to listen to the voices who disagree with us; to have an open debate about how we use our powers and how we must constrain them; and to always remember that government exists to serve the power of the individual, and not the other way around,” he said.
When groups attempt to engage in “open debate” by actually looking at the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court’s opinion on the spying program, they are told it would damage national security.
When they attempt to obtain related documents through Freedom of Information Act requests they get wholly redacted documents.
If this is “listening to the voices who disagree with us” and allowing “open debate about how we use our powers and how we must constrain them,” I would hate to see what not listening and not having an open debate looks like.
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