Former NSA director Michael Hayden told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday that President Obama is trying to “take some steps to make the American people more comfortable” with the agency’s formerly secret operations. Those efforts will need to include a national primer on the word “comfortable.” Americans constitutionally “uncomfortable” with potential governmental abuses of “big data” surveillance and privacy invasion are not a discrete group from those who expect security as part of their government-provided safety package. As Hayden, also a former CIA Director who now works in the private sector, put it: “some steps to make Americans more comfortable will actually make Americans less safe.”
Addressing the issue on August 9, President Obama did not promise any substantive operational changes to the NSA programs. He said he would work with Congress on “appropriate reforms” but at the same time indicated none were necessary. The President said he is “comfortable that the program currently is not being abused” and is “following the law.” It was the first White House press conference in three months, and came a day after the CEOs of AT&T and Apple, along with high-level representatives from Google and other tech industry influencers met with the President to discuss the balance of privacy and security in the new world of “big data.” The current controversy–stoked by former security consultant (and current fugitive) Edward Snowden’s exposure of the government’s secret surveillance programs–has reinvigorated public interest in the PATRIOT Act, the far-reaching powers of which once caused in Senator Obama the same misgivings currently voiced by alarmed privacy advocates. As recently as June, however, a majority of Americans supported the NSA phone record tracking as a necessary sacrifice.