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U.S. Strengthening Security or Undermining Privacy?

Aired January 17, 2014 - 18:28   ET



ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, reigning in Big Brother.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The reforms I'm proposing today should give the American people greater confidence that their rights are being protected.

ANNOUNCER: Should you feel safer or spied on?

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: He was saying all the right things except for he really between the lines told me he's going to continue to collect all of my private records without a warrant.

ANNOUNCER: On the left, Stephanie Cutter. On the right, Newt Gingrich. In the CROSSFIRE, Laura Murphy of the American Civil Liberties Union and Tom Ridge, President Bush's homeland security secretary.

Is the president strengthening your privacy? Will America be more vulnerable? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.


NEWT GINGRICH, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Newt Gingrich on the right.

STEPHANIE CUTTER, CO-HOST: And I'm Stephanie Cutter on the left. In the CROSSFIRE tonight a homeland security secretary versus the ACLU.

Here's what we can agree on: terrorists are always looking for ways to attack the United States, and our government must have the best information available to stop them. But reasonable people start to disagree when we're forced to figure out how to stop them. Today President Obama struck the right balance, between our privacy and our security.


OBAMA: Those who are troubled by our existing programs are not interested in repeating the tragedy of 9/11, and those who defend these programs are not dismissive of civil liberties. The challenge is getting the details right, and that is not simple.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CUTTER: It isn't simple, but we live in a data-driven world. Private companies collect our data all the time. Campaigns use data to win elections.

And what the president announced today is far more protective than how some companies are using our personal information. Of course, our Constitution holds the government to a higher standard. And we need to have a conversation about that, but we also need to ask ourselves how else are we going to protect this country if we can't use the best technology to find terrorists and protect ourselves -- Newt.

GINGRICH: I think the president today started a conversation that's really important. I think the Congress is going to have to pick it up. I hope they will expand it to look also at privacy as it relates to giant corporations.

I mean, I frankly feel that I'm in at least as grave a threat of having my privacy invaded by a number of corporations as I am by the government. I think it's an important topic. I think we have two really great guests tonight.

In CROSSFIRE, Laura Murphy of the ACLU and Governor Tom Ridge, the nation's first homeland security secretary. And they both know an immense amount about this. I want to start with you and what I really find is a very complicated situation we're in.

And I don't know if you're going to agree with this analysis, but I think we live in a time, as the Boston bombing reminded us, where we have people who genuinely hate us, and we have people around the world who would like to destroy us. And there's a growing danger that sooner or later they're going to get nuclear weapons.

And you can deliver a nuclear weapon in a truck actually easier than you can fit it on a missile. And my concern, and the reason I'm so committed to national security is I think there's a genuine danger that someday we could lose Cincinnati. And I think that's a bigger -- I'm picking that at random. But that's a bigger danger to me than the danger of the current government doing something with data that threatens me.

It strikes me that the ACLU position is that losing Cincinnati is a lesser danger than the government having your personal data. I mean, how do you comport those two?

LAURA MURPHY, ACLU: That's ridiculous. I don't want to lose Cincinnati.


MURPHY: I want to be safe and secure. But there's this false dichotomy between security and our compliance with our Bill of Rights and our Constitution.

We are living in an Orwellian time where data from the private sector, as you said, as well as data collected by the government is being collected on our every movement, location, text, Internet searches and all of this is being stored by the government. And that is inappropriate.

It's no problem if the government specifies in a warrant that they want to look into someone who may have ties to terrorism. And the government has full authority to act in emergencies. But they don't need to keep our data for seven years, because the history is that the government, when it collects this data, it misuses it.

GINGRICH: Let me ask you just one example. Secretary Chertoff, Tom's successor of homeland security, wrote of two recent specific recent cases, one involving a threat to the New York subways and the other involving a threat to bomb Wall Street. Both of which were picked up by scanning data and suddenly seeing connections that wouldn't exist. You could never have gotten an affidavit, because you didn't know these connections existed until you found the connections.

MURPHY: Well, the president's own review panel that included Republicans and Democrats said that this collection, this vault collection has not helped us solve a single terrorism threat. So the question is it costs billions of dollars, it's not effective, so why are we doing it? And it offends our values.

CUTTER: Governor, do you want to respond to that?

TOM RIDGE, FORMER SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: I think it's a very important discussion. I think the president today initiated the discussion that I think this country is going to have forevermore.

I think we live in an age that will be called digital forevermore. And the intersection of digital and electronic communication with the multiple threats against the United States puts a very unique and complex pressure on this country in order to keep it safe.

Now, the question becomes, as I saw the president today, asking the Congress to try to build a consensus route, perhaps a new regimen. But let's face it. Every single day technology changes. Every single day there's more and more communication.

And where I -- where I disagree with my friends from the ACLU, I'm sure, is that I'm not comfortable with some of my colleagues in the intelligence community having the government, in spite of the investment in Utah, having the cloud out there. I would just as soon there be retention by my service provider. He has my texts. He has my e-mails. He has my phone records.

And if there's a dot that the intelligence community -- we like that euphemism. Connect the dots. If there's a dot, if there's an e-mail address, if there's a telephone record that they want to go to my service provider and say, "This is somebody we think is a terrorist, supporting a terrorist, involved in a terrorist organization, ping your records. We want to know who they're talking to." That's fine.

CUTTER: So are you not in favor of this metadata analysis that we're talking about here?

First of all, the president announced today that the government is getting out of data storage. It's going to go to a third party, whether it's telephone companies...

RIDGE: Is he going to do it by executive order?

CUTTER: No, it's going to go to Congress.

RIDGE: I'm not sure that Congress is going to...

MURPHY: No, he didn't announce they were going to get rid of storage. He announced a process by which the government would access that information in storage. He didn't say he was going to get rid of it.

CUTTER: It going to be stored by a third party. That's what they said.

MURPHY: Eventually.

CUTTER: A nongovernment third party.

MURPHY: Eventually.

CUTTER: In a matter of months this decision is going to be made. But my question is about the metadata, because through the metadata you can look at trends. You can look at the number of phone calls coming in, do an analysis like Newt mentioned that can identify a series of phone calls going to one number in the United States from a suspected terrorist.

That's actually a lesson that comes out of 9/11. That's where this program was initiated. Are you still favor of this metadata analysis?

RIDGE: I still think -- yes, but there has to be a threshold. There has to be some causation. There has to be a starting point. I mean, we've used that expression "you need to connect the dots." I still don't know how you go in without a starting point. And you do have the FISA court that is -- has the capability, honorable men and women, jurists all. You show them that this is the reason we need to do a call analysis, I'm quite comfortable that it can be done.

But the whole notion that somehow the federal government needs to have all this information stored -- and by the way, I thought "The Guardian" released the other day that the federal government has 200 million text messages. And I thought they weren't holding content. Now maybe I misread the article, but the bottom line is, is that there's a retention -- you know, you collect data, and I don't think you want to collect it. I want the private sector to retain it. And if the government has a -- can overcome a threshold to convince the FISA court, I'm perfectly comfortable.

And I don't want this automatically just being swept -- swept into the cloud, and we'll get around to it when we need it. By the way, I think we're data rich and knowledge poor. I'm still trying to figure out how we can't be a little bit more strategic with the information going out.

MURPHY: I think you're absolutely correct about data rich and knowledge poor. But I also know that the president's speech only went to the issue of phone data collection. It didn't go to all the other forms of collection. And so we need the Congress to step in where the president started off.

And I was at the speech. And I saw him grappling with the civil liberties issues and the need for security. And I felt he had a level of emotional investment in the speech that I haven't seen in a long time. I think he's hearing us. But I don't think he can go far enough as president, because if he does anything that stops these programs, the next president can come along and reverse them. So Congress has to change the law.

RIDGE: Let me say, one of the challenges I think we have associated with the notion that you're not going to retain the data, if we announce to nation states that are enemies, we announce to terrorist organizations, we announce to organized crime that, after a very limited period of time, your phone records are going to evaporate, your text records will evaporate, your e-mail is going to be evaporated, that opens a conduit of illicit activity, illegal activity and terrorism activity. Communicate all around the world. Don't worry about the United States; can't look at you.

MURPHY: Let's not get fixated on data detention. There are core principles here.

GINGRICH: Let me just say, one of the reasons the president had genuine intention in the speech is that a lot of his instincts as a civil libertarian, when he was a senator and before that, are now in conflict with what he's learned over five years with an every-morning briefing. And I think -- I think he sees the world today as much more dangerous. I think he thinks the threats are much more real.

Let me give you an example in terms of interfering with your personal life and in the interests of security. Where are you on the whole idea that we scan you before you get on an airplane?

MURPHY: We find some of those scans to be invasive, and we find some of those scans to be ineffective. So the wrap-around scan, it doesn't show what's in your body cavity.

The DHS has -- TSA and others have taken steps to make them less revealing. They cover up certain private parts of the adults being scanned. But the question is we're spending billions of dollars on technologies that haven't proven to be effective.

Now, I'm not talking about scanners. I'm talking about these data mining issues.

GINGRICH: Let's stick with scanners for a second.


GINGRICH: There have been remarkably few airplanes blown up and remarkably few people seizing airplanes since we were -- I don't like the -- I travel all the time. I don't like the system, but I've concluded that it is a necessary evil in a world where people would really do us harm. MURPHY: But they're also -- there has been a limitation on the use of sharp weapons. There's been strengthening of cockpit doors. So just because you have an elephant gun doesn't mean you shot all the elephants in your midst. I mean, just because you have scanners doesn't mean you've stopped all the airplane terrorist attacks.

CUTTER: Don't you have to do everything you possibly can to do that?

MURPHY: Within reason.

CUTTER: The underwear bomber, the shoe bomber.

MURPHY: Our unifying principle here -- our unifying principle is the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. That's the law above all law.

GINGRICH: Let me say the unifying principle is also survival. And listening to all this debate, we need to remember that the Constitution is not a suicide pact.

Next, let me describe for you the real threats facing us today.


GINGRICH: Welcome back.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Laura Murphy and Tom Ridge.

Today, President Obama gave a speech about the dilemma of people trying to kill us while we try to preserve our privacy.

In that context, I want to make two flat assertions.

First, we have an absolute obligation to know what foreign governments are doing. I'm fine if we spy on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and I don't care if it makes her upset. Her country cuts deals with Russia, Iran and many other countries. As an American, we should know whether or not it affects us.

The second objective fact is that we do, in fact, have Americans engaged in war against the United States. Think of the Boston bombers, the U.S.-born imam who was killed in Yemen and the American Taliban who was picked up on the battlefield. All of this leads, I think, to the kind of challenges that are very different and that we're all going to have to wrestle with.

So, in that sense, the president in starting this conversation, I hope the Congress will take it very seriously, but let me give you an example. The Boston bombers were caught by a variation of metadata. They were caught by security cameras. The security cameras were filming everybody who came within their reach.

MURPHY: They weren't caught. They were --

CUTTER: They were identified.

MURPHY: They were identified, OK? GINGRICH: They were identified and would not have been caught without having been identified.

MURPHY: But there was also a reliance on tips. We can always point to the most extreme examples but that does that mean that we have to subject over 300 million people to Orwellian type searches of their private information? We don't need to do that to catch the Boston bombers.

GINGRICH: But let's just -- I want to stay first on cameras and see where you guys are on cameras. These are cameras that are taking lots of data into the camera. If you go to use your ATM, if you do a variety of things, park your car in front of a hotel, lots of places now pick up data.

MURPHY: Right.

GINGRICH: And the data does turn out to be -- Great Britain, which is not Moscow, not Beijing, London, has the most security cameras in the world in response to terrorism. They caught the London subway bombers explicitly because of the cameras.

MURPHY: Do we want to live in a society where we feel that our every digital movement and our every physical movement is being tracked and stored by the government, analyzed tracked and stored? That's the question. And our national security experts have told us that we don't need all this information. You can't find the needle in the haystack if you increase the haystack exponentially.

GINGRICH: Question, the national security experts and the president have all said they do need the data.

MURPHY: Well, not the presidential review panel.


CUTTER: How do you balance that?

RIDGE: First of all, I think -- I always weary about the word "balance" because that's a tipping point where suddenly you start eroding a particular freedom, you erode a particular liberty. I think frankly there is a significant difference, I must tell you, although I'm somewhat troubled because there may be no tipping point unless the Congress and the United States and Americans rise up.

I don't want a camera on every corner. I mean, I think that's one of the purposes of the discussion tonight on CROSSFIRE and one of the reasons we're going to have to have this discussion for evermore. At what point in time do we as a society accept a level of risk because we are concerned we've gone too far in terms of overseeing what we do as individuals and in the exercise of free will?

Do you as an American -- you obviously -- we want you to be a law- abiding citizen, but do we -- because there are aberrant behavior and criminal behavior out there -- say to ourselves, we have to have cameras on every street corner. That's different than data the collection in my judgment.

MURPHY: You know what?

RIDGE: Because the data collection -- the data collection as we know today, I think is just the beginning of the kind of technology we're going to see down the road. There's going to be more and more information about us.

We have no idea -- most citizens have no idea the government has as much information they have about them today. And if they went through their week, they'll see they leave a lot of digital DNA along the way.

If you ever had the capacity to put both sources of information together, you'd have an entirely different environment. So, I think the president started a very important discussion. And it's not going to end with this Congress. We better have it in the forever more.


MURPHY: But the underwear bomber, the Ft. Hood shooting, all of these things were found to be investigated and resolved because of good old fashioned law enforcement. It wasn't technology that got us to a resolution in those cases. It was -- it was law enforcement following up on tips.

GINGRICH: In fact, the killer at Ft. Hood was directly connected electronically to the American imam in Yemen who the president signed an authorization to kill.


MURPHY: And then why didn't the government find it? Why didn't -- because they have too much information.

GINGRICH: No, the government didn't find it. It has a bias against interpreting those kind of --

MURPHY: No, they were just overwhelmed with data. And they can't focus on the right people.

RIDGE: You know, what's a case where -- I said before -- where we're data rich and knowledge poor. They were knowledge rich and they didn't act on it. That's separate and apart. But I still think we have to be --

GINGRICH: But you used a key term here I want to ask you about. You talk about law-abiding citizens.


GINGRICH: How in this country are we going to function if every person who takes an oath of office and every person who swears that they will engage in secrecy then decides to arrogate the right on their own to break the law? Now --


GINGRICH: Let me give you an example. Your organization described Snowden as a patriot. OK? This is -- Edward Snowden as a patriot.


GINGRICH: Now, Snowden's a guy who went to China, which has a genuine dictatorship, is currently hiding in Russia.

MURPHY: That's only because the U.S. took away his passport and didn't allow him to seek asylum anywhere.


GINGRICH: Then went to Russia.

So he's now sitting in Russia where Putin runs a virtual dictatorship where they actually do all the abuses you fear.

MURPHY: Yes, but he's not engaging in espionage. He's done a public service by releasing information that even James Sensenbrenner, the author of the Patriot Act -- you served with Jim Sensenbrenner. He didn't authorize all these metadata --


RIDGE: Let me interrupt. This is really bothering me a great deal. The man betrayed trust to his country. The man was given the opportunity and, frankly I'm one of the few people that think he has a hand or two, it's difficult for me to think that he acted on his own. But perhaps he did.

But look where he went. I must tell you -- I could have taken him up to people on the left and on the right who would have been appalled by that revelation. I should have taken his hand and walked him into the ACLU so you could have revealed it.

But taking -- they're talking 1.7 million to 2 million pieces of information and where does he go? He goes to China? And then to Russia?

MURPHY: You know what? I have not seen any acts of espionage engaged in by this individual. And you cannot deny that we would not be having this debate -- the president would not be --

CUTTER: Not the way to have it.

MURPHY: Well, wait a minute. The fact is the fact. The president would not be giving this speech if these revelations were not disclosed.

RIDGE: That's right. That's absolutely correct.

And you could have disclosed these matters in a more sensitive way, sensitive to his country's long-term best interests and secure the ability to provide for the safety and security of the country. He could have gone over to your office --

MURPHY: These are secret programs that the office --

RIDGE: He could have gone over to the ACLU.

MURPHY: Why is the chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the Senate --


MURPHY: -- why is Sensenbrenner saying we have to report (ph) these programs?

RIDGE: All right.

CUTTER: We're going to take a quick break. I want you both to stay here. We'll pick this up in the next block.

Next, a final question for both of our guests. We want you at home to weigh in on today's "Fireback" question. When striking a balance between privacy and security, which should be a higher priority? Tweet privacy or security using #crossfire.


CUTTER: We're back with Laura Murphy and Tom Ridge.

Now it's time for our final question. We're going to shake it up tonight.

Laura, you get the first final question -- to Newt.

MURPHY: OK. Pick up your phone and scroll through your text messages and read out loud all of the things that have been said in your texts.

GINGRICH: I can't do that.

MURPHY: You can't do that.

GINGRICH: I'm holding stuff --


MURPHY: Well, that --

CUTTER: It's a prop.

MURPHY: It's a prop, but imagine if the government did the same thing. That's what they have the power to do now.

GINGRICH: This may shock you. I don't mind on behalf of stopping terrorists because I actually don't put anything on my texts that relate to terrorism. So, I'm perfectly happy --

MURPHY: But there could be some embarrassing information.

GINGRICH: A lot of embarrassing information. I was worried about private hackers.

MURPHY: You're not worried about government bureaucrats with that information?


MURPHY: Oh, you were when the IRS leaked information.


RIDGE: If they pick up --

GINGRICH: That's different information.

MURPHY: Oh, no, it's not.

RIDGE: If they pick up Newt's e-mail address in Yemen, I want them to check it out and see --

GINGRICH: Exactly.

RIDGE: Under those circumstances, you ought --


MURPHY: And you want President Obama to know which calls you make, too?

GINGRICH: Only if it's a national security issue related to the defense of the United States.

MURPHY: Well, then we're in agreement because we believe those things should be narrowed.

CUTTER: OK. We're in agreement, so I'm going to switch topics for a second and if to a final question for you.

RIDGE: All right.

CUTTER: Now, you served under President Bush. You know the Bushes pretty well. You saw Barbara Bush's comment today --


CUTTER: That no more Bushes, no more Clintons should run for president. I loved it. As I said earlier, I have a similar mother who gives me her opinion of what I should do all the time.

But do you agree, no more Bushes and no more Clintons? Do we have additional candidates on the Republican side and who are those candidates?

RIDGE: Well, I think, first of all, what Jeb probably realizes is his mother is a strong-willed woman and has never been afraid to voice her opinions. And what she realizes that they raised a strong-willed independent sons and daughters and he'll do whatever he thinks he should do.

I think the bench is pretty deep, frankly, on my side of the aisle. I'm looking more toward governors because at the end of the day, I do think it's not necessarily an indictment of the last five years.

MURPHY: What about Tom Ridge?

RIDGE: It's nice to have executive experience before you become president.

GINGRICH: We have to go.

RIDGE: All right.

GINGRICH: We're going to close it out.

The debate continues online at as well as Facebook and Twitter.

From the left, I'm Stephanie Cutter.

GINGRICH: From the right, I'm Newt Gingrich.

Join us next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.