The Guardian and The Washington Post revealed last week that the National Security Agency has been collecting millions of Americans' telephone records and international Internet activity for surveillance purposes.
Whistleblower Edward Snowden, 29, is expected to face criminal charges filed by the Department of Justice for the biggest intelligence leak in the NSA's history. On Monday, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein said Snowden had violated the law and should be prosecuted.
"I don't look at this as being a whistle-blower," Feinstein (D-Calf.) said in The Hill. "I think it's an act of treason."
The reports led to worldwide debates about the balance between privacy and security. President Barack Obama responded Friday to the concern:
I came in with a healthy skepticism about these programs. My team evaluated them. We scrubbed them thoroughly. We actually expanded some of the oversight, increased some of the safeguards. But my assessment and my team's assessment was that they help us prevent terrorist attacks. And the modest encroachments on privacy that are involved in getting phone numbers, or duration, without a name attached, and not looking at content ... it was worth us doing.
That's — some other folks may have a different assessment of that. But I think it's important to recognize that you can't have a hundred percent security and also then have a hundred percent privacy and zero inconvenience. You know, we're going to have to make some choices as a society.
The Guardian has a rundown of the data NSA is collecting:
The order is untargeted, meaning that the NSA can snoop on calls without suspecting anyone of wrongdoing. It was made on 25 April, days after the Boston Marathon bombing.
Under the order, the NSA only gains access to the "metadata" around calls — when they were made, what numbers they were made to, where they were made from and how long the calls lasted...
The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that the data collection of mobile phone records extends to AT&T (107 million users) and Sprint (55 million).
Shane Harris, senior writer for The Washingtonian, covers national security. In a piece for CNN, Harris said the government hasn't provided enough evidence that the data collection is keeping Americans safe.
"Reasonable people can come to different conclusions about how comfortable they are with the government building all these databases," he wrote. "But we shouldn't accept officials' broad claims that these searches, and the information they're based on, are protecting the nation's security. If we're going to hand over so much information about our once-private lives, we should have some assurance that the trade is worth it."