Transcript: Q&A with Sen. Ron Wyden on the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs at the Center for American Progress on July 23, 2013

Partial transcript of Q&A with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on the NSA’s domestic data collection and privacy rights at the Center for American Progress Action Fund on July 23, 2013:

Question:
…Senator, I was hoping you could weigh in on the effort in the House, specifically the amendment by Justin Amash that would go after some of these surveillance programs through funding mechanism. This is the amendment to the appropriations bill.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.):
I haven’t seen what the Congressman is actually proposing but the fact that this has made it to the floor of the House of Representatives is unquestionably good. It’s another step, as I’ve outlined, in the march to a real debate. We wouldn’t have had that seven, eight weeks – you know, we would have been, as I tried to outline this morning, just chipping away day after day trying to make our case. And now, as I’ve read late last night, this debate is going to be on the floor of the House of Representatives, and later today, we’re going to see members of Congress start debating the real issues. I mean, I assume very early on they’re going to start a discussion about what I call a false choice, where you can either have your security or your liberty. And as you heard me describe in probably in root canal like detail, I don’t think that’s the case. I think when elected officials do their jobs, we can have both. So the fact that this is on the floor of the House of Representatives later today is unquestionably very good for the cause that we’re outlining today.

Question:
…You brought up the Franklin quote. The Department of Homeland Security has data mined from some publications…and they stated that they have “adopted the notion of balancing the privacy against other values” because that paragraph result in a zero-sum outcome and privacy is often diminished at the expense of security. So I’m just wondering what can we do about Department of Homeland Security as well as NSA?

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.):
Are you quoting from an official Homeland Security document that it diminishes the importance of privacy?

Question:
Yes. It was a footnote in the Fairness Information Practice and Principles.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.):
Thank God there are students out there that read footnotes…We will be following that up. I’m stunned that there would be a government document that formally as a matter of agency policy unravels what the founding fathers were seeking to do, so we’ll follow that up.

Question:
…How concerned should we be that this information that’s collected by private or government sources could be used to influence members of Congress, certainly people in the business community? It’s very valuable information to know what someone – a candidate who’s running for an office – knows or what fundraising activities they’re involved in. Are you fearful for a future where this kind of information could be parceled in a way that, of course, supports those who support the intelligence agencies and fights those that oppose it?

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.):
Well, there are plenty of ways in which you can envision how this would be abused, and I want to unpack, of course, the argument that is made on the other side. They said, “Well, we’re not listening to anybody. We’re not considering the content of a specific call.” This is what amounts to what one privacy expert said, “This is a human relationships database.” I mean, if you know, for example, that someone called a psychiatrist three times in the last 36 hours, twice after midnight, that tells you a lot about an individual and that can have enormous ramifications. Certainly can have ramifications in terms of employment. I can envision a whole host of it. So this idea that metadata, which is essentially data about data, is not, you know, a big deal, is simply not consistent with how you can extrapolate about people and their lives about who they call and where they call from.

Question:
…Earlier you said that Edward Snowden revealed some of the programs that were in existence – surveillance programs. We know that the court opinions are secret but are there still actual surveillance and data-gathering programs which have not been disclosed, which you feel the public would or should be alarmed about?

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.):
That, of course, is classified, and I can’t get into it. What I will tell you is when you unpack the language of Patriot Act authority, the authority of the government is essentially limitless. So I can’t talk about how it is actually used because that is classified, but I can tell you that the authority is essentially limitless.

Question:
…This is a very important speech. I hope everybody recognizes how important it is, and everything you talked about is very much on the mark. One item that wasn’t mentioned…the importance of the Internet to our world is phenomenal…And the Internet has this tool for freedom, for people to communicate, for democracy. And the U.S. government’s ability to be a credible advocate in the international arena for an open and free Internet has unfortunately been undermined because of these programs. I just think that’s a part of the equation, which I would like to think the administration didn’t consider that risk when making some of their decisions. Hopefully, it will now be one.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.):
…What I wanted to do this morning was to say if our generation at this unique time in American history doesn’t take these surveillance authorities, programs and practices that we’ve learned an awful lot about and find a way to show that we can secure both our liberty and our public safety, I think we’re going to regret it because we do, in fact, have an always expanding omnipresent surveillance state. And just these smartphones that everybody’s got in our pockets…these can be used as a tracking system for everybody in this room 24/7, and as I outlined, the government has asserted that it has the authority to do significant cellphone tracking. Again, I’m going to authorities. So I think this is a unique time in our constitutional history…I hope all who are here and all who are listening in are going to see what has begun, highlighted by the fact that the House is going to be starting a debate in a few hours. It’s giving us momentum that we haven’t had ever on these kinds of issues and it couldn’t come at a more appropriate confluence of these digital technologies that we’ve been talking about.

Thanks everybody for having me.

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One Comment on “Transcript: Q&A with Sen. Ron Wyden on the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs at the Center for American Progress on July 23, 2013

  1. Pingback: Transcript: John Podesta's remarks on domestic surveillance programs at the Center for American Progress on July 23, 2013 | What The Folly?!

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