President Barack Obama made it clear Friday he has no intention of stopping the daily collection of American phone records. And while he offered “appropriate reforms,” he blamed government leaks for creating distrust of his domestic spying program.
In an afternoon news conference, the president acknowledged the domestic spying has troubled Americans and hurt the country’s image abroad. But he called it a critical counterterrorism tool.
Even more to the point, his comments represent a fundamental misunderstanding of why the public doesn’t trust the government. That’s because he keeps insisting that the program isn’t being abused and that all of this collection is legal. But, really, that’s not what the concern is about. Even though we actually know that the NSA has a history of abuse (and other parts of the intelligence community before that), a major concern is that scooping up so much data is considered legal in the first place. So, when President Obama says that we should blindly trust the government not to abuse the data, that’s missing the point:
“Understandably, people would be concerned,” the president said. “I would be, too, if I weren’t inside the government.”
That’s not particularly comforting.