The Conversation

Obama Admits Data Collection Poses Enormous Potential for Abuse

President Obama gave an interview to Charlie Rose which is set to air later tonight. During the interview President Obama admits the program creates enormous potential for abuse.

Buzzfeed published a partial transcript of the interview set to air later tonight. Here's one portion of it in which the President admits there is enormous potential for abuse. He goes on to argue that such abuse doesn't happen becuase it is illegal:

Barack Obama: you’ll hear is people say, “Okay, we have no evidence that it has been abused so far.” And they say, “Let’s even grant that Obama’s not abusing it, that all these processes — DOJ is examining it. It’s being renewed periodically, et cetera — the very fact that there is all this data in bulk, it has the enormous potential for abuse,” because they’ll say, you know, “You can — when you start looking at metadata, even if you don’t know the names, you can match it up, if there’s a call to an oncologist, and there’s a call to a lawyer, and — you can pair that up and figure out maybe this person’s dying, and they’re writing their will, and you can yield all this information.” All of that is true. Except for the fact that for the government, under the program right now, to do that, it would be illegal. We would not be allowed to do that. [Emphasis added]

If the IRS and other scandals have shown us anything it is that potential government abuse sometimes becomes actual government abuse. In the case of secret NSA databases, who would ever know if the program was being abused? Would the target of the abuse ever be informed it has happened? Rose doesn't ask for specifics.

A bit earlier in the interview Rose asks the President if the FISA court has turned down any requests by the FBI:

Charlie Rose: So I hear you saying, I have no problem with what NSA has been doing.

Barack Obama: Well, let me — let me finish, because I don’t. So, what happens is that the FBI — if, in fact, it now wants to get content; if, in fact, it wants to start tapping that phone — it’s got to go to the FISA court with probable cause and ask for a warrant.

Charlie Rose: But has FISA court turned down any request?

Barack Obama: The — because — the — first of all, Charlie, the number of requests are surprisingly small… number one. Number two, folks don’t go with a query unless they’ve got a pretty good suspicion.

Notice that Rose didn't ask how many they turned down. He asked if they turned down "any" at all. President Obama's dodges the question by claiming the FBI wouldn't ask without a good reason.

Is that, in fact, the standard the FISA court uses? Do the federal judges looking at the warrants simply say to themselves, "The FBI wouldn't ask without a good reason." If so, that seems like fairly perfunctory oversight. If there's more to it, why aren't some requests rejected?

Despite his dodge of the oversight question, the President immediately goes on to claim that his entire objection to NSA surveillance in the past was about a lack of oversight:

My concern has always been not that we shouldn’t do intelligence gathering to prevent terrorism, but rather are we setting up a system of checks and balances? So, on this telephone program, you’ve got a federal court with independent federal judges overseeing the entire program. And you’ve got Congress overseeing the program, not just the intelligence committee and not just the judiciary committee — but all of Congress had available to it before the last reauthorization exactly how this program works.

Rose doesn't ask Obama to explain why so many in Congress claim they were unaware of how the program worked and why even Jim Sensenbrenner, one of the authors of the Patriot Act, has been saying the NSA is going too far.

The Charlie Rose interview is supposedly 45 minutes long. Buzzfeed did not publish a complete transcript so there may be more on these topics tonight. However, from what has been published so far this is not exactly David Frost interviewing Nixon. Rose generally asks simple questions and lets Obama talk with no follow-ups. Even when he has something, like the admission about the potential for abuse, he doesn't press it.


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