Obama: Monitoring Terrorists on Social Media Must Be Balanced With Our Values

Friday at his 2015 year-end news conference, President Barack Obama said when we monitor terrorists on social media it “raises questions about our values.”

Obama said, “The issue of reviewing social media for those who are obtaining visas I think may have gotten garbled a little bit. Because there may be—it’s important to distinguish between posts that are public, social media on a Facebook page, versus private communications through various social media or apps. And our law enforcement and intelligence professionals are constantly monitoring public posts and that is part of the visa review process—that people are investigating what individuals have said publicly and questioned about any statements that they may make. But if you have a private communication between two individuals, that’s harder to discern by definition. And one of the things we’ll be doing is engaging with the high tech community to find out how we can, in an appropriate way, do a better job, if we have a lead, to be able to track a suspected terrorist, but we’re going to have to recognize that no government is going to have the capacity to lead every single person’s—to read every single person’s texts or emails or social media. If it’s not posted publicly, then there’s going to be feasibility issues that are probably insurmountable at some level and it raises questions about our values.”

He continued, “Keep in mind, it was only a couple of years ago where we were having a major debate about whether the government was becoming too much like big brother. And overall, I think we’ve struck the right balance in protecting civil liberties and making sure that U.S. citizens’ privacy is preserved, that we are making sure that there’s oversight to what our intelligence agencies do, but we’re going to have to continue to balance our needs for security with people’s legitimate concerns about privacy. And because the internet is global and communications systems are global, the values that we apply here oftentimes are ones that, you know, folks who are trying to come into the country are also benefiting from because they’re using the same technologies. But this is precisely why we’re working very hard to bring law enforcement, intelligence, and high tech companies together—because we’re going to have to really review what we can do, both technically as well as consistent with our laws and values in order to try to discern more rapidly some of the potential threats that may be out there.”

Follow Pam Key on Twitter @pamkeyNEN


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