Alexis Ohanian, the cofounder of Reddit, an influential online community, expressed disappointment with President Obama's decision to allow the National Security Agency to continue collecting bulk phone data and said supporters of those surveillance practices had offered a “false choice” between privacy and security.
In an interview on NBC's “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Ohanian responded to comments from Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., that critics of the NSA failed to understand the terror threats facing the U.S.
“To me, that is a false choice,” said Ohanian. “In fact, I remember hearing President Obama campaigning on the false choice the Bush administration was positioning when they were trying to do this very same thing.
“I think it's really important for us to realize that it's possible for us to have security while also not overstepping our right to privacy,” he added.
Obama, in a speech Friday, largely kept in place the NSA’s surveillance of phone and internet traffic. Critics of the NSA say they are unsatisfied with the president’s reforms and will push ahead for more oversight.
Feinstein, though, said she did not believe those opponents had the support needed to end the controversial program collecting phone metadata.
Among Obama’s reforms are requiring the NSA to obtain a secret court warrant before accessing the phone data and storing the information outside of the government.
The president and the NSA’s defenders say there is no evidence the agency abused its surveillance powers, but Ohanian said the danger of privacy violations was too great to ignore.
“I would not like to have that hanging over my head. I think it is absolutely possible for the NSA to do their job without the bulk collection of America's phone records,” he added.
Ohanian also called for a “proper congressional investigation.”
“The sort of thing that will actually get us some answers, that has subpoena powers, that has the ability to sift through and actually give the American people the transparency that we deserve,” he said.
As a businessman, Ohanian said there were costs to private industry from the NSA's surveillance and warned that foreign companies would be reluctant to do business with U.S. firms over spying concerns.
“Forrester estimated about $180 billion is going to be lost in revenue because countries and citizens around the world no longer want to do business with American companies. Because they no longer trust that their private data is safe,” he said. “I'm an entrepreneur. I'm an investor. There's real business cost on top of this, on top of the very important civil liberties costs.”
Ohanian also praised Edward Snowden, the former government contractor whose disclosures sparked debate over the NSA's practices, saying that history would look back on him as a “whistleblower” and not a leaker.