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POLITICS: White House

White House: Surveillance is constitutional

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,White House,Joel Gehrke,National Security

Broad surveillance of the American people is constitutional, President Obama’s spokesman said Thursday following a report that the National Security Agency is collecting the phone records of all Verizon customers.

Obama has a “robust legal regime” for surveillance activities that works “to ensure that they comply with the Constitution,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said during the press gaggle Thursday.

“[T]his strict regime reflects the president’s desire to strike the right balance between protecting our national security and protecting constitutional rights and civil liberties,” the pooler also quoted Earnest as saying.

News of the surveillance broke Wednesday evening. “The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America’s largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April,” the Guardian reported. “Under the terms of the blanket order, the numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as is location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls. The contents of the conversation itself are not covered.”

Earnest said that the legal “authorities that are referenced by this reported order are something that have been in place for a number of years now.”

Here is the pool report:

AF One arrived in NC at 1:36 p.m. EDT. Josh Earnest and Arne Duncan gaggled in flight. Duncan highlights are in Pool 2. Following here are quick highlights from the Earnest portion, which focused almost entirely on reports about NSA review of telephone records.
Earnest read a statement at the top of his part of the gaggle, about the “robust legal regime” that reviews the use of the government powers under the Patriot Act “to ensure that they comply with the Constitution”

He declined to say if the particular order  in question today has been in place for seven years, as members of Congress have said, but he did say that the “authorities that are referenced by this reported order are something that have been in place for a number of years now.”

He declined to say if this order relates to a specific investigation, citing the classified status of the material in question.

Asked if the president is comfortable with the way the law is being interpreted in his administration, he referred again to the legal oversight and said “this strict regime reflects the president’s desire to strike the right balance between protecting our national security and protecting constitutional rights and civil liberties.”

Asked if this and other nettlesome issues are distracting the president from working on immigration reform, he said he did not see this as a distraction.

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