In spite of the ongoing leaks by the Guardian and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, there is still much that the public doesn't know about government surveillance. Brooke talks to Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who says that the government needs to better inform the public, and when it does, it needs to be a little more accurate and a little less misleading.
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BROOKE GLADSTONE:A common refrain in the wake of the surveillance leaks by Edward Snowden has been how much do we know or maybe how much do we still
not know? In its effort to defend its surveillance programs, the NSA released a fact sheet. But Senators Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado noticed
that the NSA’s fact sheet wasn’t entirely factual. Specifically, says Senator Wyden, there was something amiss with the description of Section 702 of the Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Act.
SENATOR RON WYDEN:Under section 702, the government has authorities to collect the content of communications that involve the computer system called
Prism. And the idea is to focus on the foreigners and not just sweep up the records of law-abiding Americans. This fact sheet was portraying the privacy protections
as being considerably stronger than they actually are
BROOKE GLADSTONE:And General Keith Alexander, who presides over many of these secret programs, withdrew it and sent you a – an apology?
SENATOR RON WYDEN:I’m glad that they withdrew a fact sheet that contained these misleading statements.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:But has he since corrected the record?
SENATOR RON WYDEN:I have no information with respect to whether or not they’re going to put up a new fact sheet. But some have said, you know, if a couple of senators hadn’t spoken out about this, that information might have stayed up there forever.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:With this fact sheet, do you think the NSA tried to pull a fast one?
SENATOR RON WYDEN:I’m not going to attribute motives. What I will tell you is on occasion after occasion, senior officials in the intelligence community have made misleading statements about government surveillance and statements that have offered views that are simply far removed from the actual operation.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Are you moving for declassification, so you can speak with more clarity?
SENATOR RON WYDEN:This is a general proposition. We’ve got a long way to go, in terms of getting into the hands of the American people more information, with respect to the legal interpretations of these important laws. I mean, it’s almost like in – the case of some of these laws, as if they’re two statutes. I mean, I often tell my colleagues, it’s like there are two Patriot Acts, and my constituents can’t read the one that actually matters. They can go online and read the law, but they can't read the secret court opinions that have interpreted the law for more broadly than nearly anybody would have guessed.So there is a bipartisan group in the Senate pushing legislation that would require that the government be more open about the FISA Court’s legal ruling, for public debate.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Given that you were fighting this battle in the shadows for so long and now it's very much in the public, you must feel mind-blowing ambivalence about Edward Snowden’s leak.
SENATOR RON WYDEN:When there is a criminal investigation, I don't get involved because I just think that’s over the line, in terms of the role of the Intelligence Committee. But I sure want people to understand what the bottom line is, for me. I wanted the administration to be significantly more open with the public about these surveillance laws a long time ago.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:So maybe you’re not that ambivalent.
SENATOR RON WYDEN:Again, I believe this debate should have been held a long time ago. The American people understand that there are very real threats, but it is possible to fight terror ferociously and relentlessly, without throwing our liberties aside. And that’s what this debate’s about. It is a false choice to say that liberty and security are mutually exclusive.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Senator, thank you very much.
SENATOR RON WYDEN:Let’s do it again soon!
SENATOR RON WYDEN:All right, Brooke, thanks so much.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Ron Wyden is the senior US senator from Oregon and a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
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