Experts consider NSA Surveillance: Privacy vs Security

WASHINGTON -- Your phone calls, in one way or another, have been tracked by the government -- more specifically, the NSA, who tracks information on nearly every call made in the U.S.

"I don't remember anybody ever asking me if the government can collect every single time I turn my cell phone on," said NSA expert James Bamford.

Bamford, who has authored three books on the NSA, spoke to a room of more than 100 people at the National Press Club Thursday where he endorsed the 46 recommendations made by a Presidential NSA review panel on ways to reform the agency.

"You have quite balance on the panel, many experts, nobody wrote a minority report or anything and they all came to an agreement on what should be done, and I think a lot of the public goes along with it. You will have a lot of disappointed people if the president doesn't go along with the recommendations of a panel who has some very good ideas," said Bamford.

Former NSA chief, Retired General Michael Hayden, could not disagree more. He told the USA Today that the president should reject all 46 proposals.

"If these are adopted all 46 in their totality, these are a really big deal and would really remake American intelligence. I'm afraid that we might have to take some steps that might make us a little less effective," said Hayden.

Robert Gates spent most of his career in Washington, D.C. as a member of the intelligence gathering community. The former Secretary of Defense under President Obama and Director of the CIA under President George H.W. Bush continued his recent book tour on Thursday.

He told Politico that the NSA's methods are necessary in the current global environment.

"A lot of the people who are really focused on privacy and civil liberties and so on, resist the notion of NSA providing cyber-security for the United States. The truth is they are our principle weapon in this conflict," said Gates.

The NSA review panel determined that spying on Americans has not prevented any terrorist attacks.

One of the reforms they recommend would have phone companies - or another third party - handle and store information from phone calls, only making it available to the government by court order.

"Frankly, I think the data is far safer and privacy far more secure with NSA holding the information than some third party," countered Hayden during his USA Today interview.

Bamford said it's all about balance.

"There's some risks. You have to balance the risks and nobody seems to be able to balance the risks when it comes to terrorism. It's all or nothing, all surveillance, all security or nothing and forget the civil liberties, forget the privacy," said Bamford.

The risks, surveillance, privacy, civil liberties and security will all be considered by the president when he pitches what are expected to be reforms to the NSA during a speech on Friday morning.


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