U.S. spy chief defends phone, Internet surveillance

There’s no need to worry about the United States government’s tapping into phone and Internet communications — that is if you’re an American citizen living in the U.S., according to James Clapper, director of National Intelligence.

In a statement released late Thursday night, the spy chief, declassified the U.S. anti-terrorist surveillance program known as Prism but said government intelligence agencies looking into phone and Internet communications were not targeting U.S. citizens but rather everybody else.

“Section 702 is a provision of FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) that is designated to facilitate the acquisition of foreign intelligence information concerning non U.S. persons located outside the United States,” the statement said. “It cannot be used to intentionally target any U.S. citizen, any other U.S. person, or anyone located with the United States.”

Clapper also said that the program was subject to oversight by FISA, the executive branch and Congress and involved “extensive procedures, approved by the court to ensure that only non-U.S. persons outside the U.S. are targeted.”

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The Prism program was developed in 2007 but was recently “reauthorized by Congress” under the Obama administration in the light of current terrorist and cyber threats.

In Canada, the federal government recently abandoned a bill that would have compelled Internet service providers to allow police and intelligence authorities to intercept and track online communications. Bill-C-30, also called the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act was denounced by many as an overreaching warrantless wiretapping bill.
The existence of Prism was leaked by reports this week by the Guardian Newspaper and the Washington Post.

Reports said that top-secret court orders required telecom company Verizon to turn over to government investigation bodies on an “on-going basis” all landline and mobile phone calls its customers made within the U.S. and between other countries and the U.S.

It was also reported that the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are allowed to collect data, audio, video, emails and other documents from Internet companies in the U.S. to help the agencies analyze and track people’s movements and the contacts they make. The reports mentioned Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple and PalTalk among others.

In his statement, Clapper said the program’s activities were reported “without any context” and new articles about it were  “misleading.”

“The article omits key information regarding how a classified intelligence collection program is used to prevent terrorist attacks and the numerous safeguards that protect privacy and civil liberties,” he said.

He said the data collections was done in a broad scope and “does not include the content of any communication or the identity of any subscriber.”

“The only type of information acquired under the court’s order is telephony metadata, such as telephone numbers dialed and length of calls,” he said.

Read Dir. James Clapper’s statement here


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