After weeks of defending his administration on several fronts, including the secret seizure of journalists’ phone records, President Obama is once again facing accusations of government overreach.
The Guardian obtained a secret court order from the National Security Agency that ordered all Verizon Business Network Services to hand over detailed records including time, duration, and the numbers involved in calls. The information included the communication of millions of U.S. citizens.
As a presidential candidate in 2008, Sen. Barack Obama presented himself as committed to all the national security tools in the fight against terrorism. But he was equally forceful on protecting privacy and civil rights in the wake of the Bush administration’s surveillance program that reviewed Americans’ calls and emails without a warrant.
“Given the grave threats that we face, our national security agencies must have the capability to gather intelligence and track down terrorists before they strike, while respecting the rule of law and the privacy and civil liberties of the American people. There is also little doubt that the Bush Administration, with the cooperation of major telecommunications companies, has abused that authority and undermined the Constitution by intercepting the communications of innocent Americans without their knowledge or the required court orders.”
He criticized the Bush administration in 2007 for putting forward what he called “a false choice between civil liberties and security.”
In December 2007 Obama told the Des Moines Register:
When I am president, there will be no more illegal wiretapping of American citizens. No more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime. No more tracking citizens who do nothing more than protest a misguided war.
He added that there was little doubt that the Bush administration and telecommunications companies “undermined the Constitution” by intercepting Americans’ conversations without their knowledge.
Obama was not yet in office when legislators voted on the counterterrorism Patriot Act in 2001, but he was an Illinois senator during its re-authorization in 2005. He said the legislation “gives people no rights to appeal the need for such a search in a court of law.”
Obama’s Senate floor statement on The Patriot Act, December 15, 2005:
“This is just plain wrong. Giving law enforcement the tools they need to investigate suspicious activity is one thing–and it’s the right thing–but doing it without any real oversight seriously jeopardizes the rights of all Americans and the ideals America stands for.”
The president signed a re-authorization of several components of the Patriot Act in 2011.