Here’s the complete speech on proposed NSA reforms given by President Obama today, for the record.
As Prepared for Delivery -
At the dawn of our Republic, a small, secret surveillance committee born out of the “The Sons of Liberty” was established in Boston. The group’s members included Paul Revere, and at night they would patrol the streets, reporting back any signs that the British were preparing raids against America’s early Patriots.
Throughout American history, intelligence has helped secure our country and our freedoms. In the Civil War, Union balloon reconnaissance tracked the size of Confederate armies by counting the number of camp fires. In World War II, code-breaking gave us insight into Japanese war plans, and when Patton marched across Europe, intercepted communications helped save the lives of his troops. After the war, the rise of the Iron Curtain and nuclear weapons only increased the need for sustained intelligence-gathering. And so, in the early days of the Cold War, President Truman created the National Security Agency to give us insight into the Soviet bloc, and provide our leaders with information they needed to confront aggression and avert catastrophe.
Throughout this evolution, we benefited from both our Constitution and traditions of limited government. U.S. intelligence agencies were anchored in our system of checks and balances - with oversight from elected leaders, and protections for ordinary citizens. Meanwhile, totalitarian states like East Germany offered a cautionary tale of what could happen when vast, unchecked surveillance turned citizens into informers, and persecuted people for what they said in the privacy of their own homes.
In fact even the United States proved not to be immune to the abuse of surveillance. In the 1960s, government spied on civil rights leaders and critics of the Vietnam War. Partly in response to these revelations, additional laws were established in the 1970s to ensure that our intelligence capabilities could not be misused against our citizens. In the long, twilight struggle against Communism, we had been reminded that the very liberties that we sought to preserve could not be sacrificed at the altar of national security.