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There's been a growing chorus of criticism from Capitol Hill about the National Security Agency's data mining program, some of it coming from members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation.
Rep. Jim McGovern, who voted against the Patriot Act, spoke with Morning Edition about his opinions on the collection of phone and Internet records by the NSA. He said he is deeply concerned that the monitoring crosses a line.
Bob Oakes: Congressman, what are your concerns here?
Rep. Jim McGovern: Well, I'm deeply concerned because this is — in my opinion — monitoring that basically crosses the line. This is the United States of America; privacy is an important right. The notion that all of our phone calls and much, much more are being monitored troubles me deeply.
You're quoted in the The Boston Globe as saying "We’re going down a road that compromises some of the values and traditions that we have held as sacred for many, many years." What do you mean by that?
The value of privacy, the protections of our liberties are something that are very unique to this country and something that we have always cherished. The thought that we're just going to put those things aside because we want to make sure that we cast a wide net to make sure that we know what everybody's doing in an effort to try to combat crime or terrorism, I think, compromises who we are as a country.
Should the administration stop it?
I believe that they should. This has been going on for some time. Look, I voted against the Patriot Act, Patriot 2 and all these kinds of initiatives to give not this administration but the previous administration these broad, sweeping powers to be able to do whatever they want. I get it — we all want to protect our country, we want to protect our fellow citizens. But there is that line where I think we have crossed here.
Respond directly to something the White House has said. Josh Earnest, White House spokesman, told reporters on board Air Force One — and I'm quoting out of The New York Times now — that this kind of surveillance "has been a critical tool in protecting the nation from terror threats as it allows counterterrorism personnel to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities, particularly people located inside the United States." So the White House clearly views this as essential.
You could make the argument that if we locked everybody in their house and watched everything they did that we could prevent something bad from happening. The way this is supposed to work is if I have reason to suspect that you may be doing something that might lead to a criminal activity or terrorism, we go to a judge, we get a court order to put you under surveillance, and then we monitor you based on that. But in this case here, the government is collecting data on people who are law-abiding citizens.
Congressman, I'm thinking back to the years during the Bush administration when many liberals were highly critical of warrantless wiretapping during the Bush years. And now we have reports of widespread surveillance under a Democratic White House. Are you disappointed in the Obama administration?
To be honest with you, I am. President Obama was the co-sponsor of legislation, when he was in the Senate, that would have prevented this kind of widespread surveillance. This has been going on for years; a lot of this was going on during the Bush administration. I never appreciated the extent of this surveillance until these reports have come out. I think it's important now for this administration to provide briefings to people not just for the intelligence committee but for all members of Congress — and, quite frankly, there needs to be an explanation to the American people.
This program aired on June 7, 2013.
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