NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The head of the National Security Agency is defending government eavesdropping on the phone and Internet communications of millions of Americans, even as some members of Congress express surprise at the extent of the program.
Wednesday was the first time the head of the NSA was on Capitol Hill since the disclosures that the government has had a massive telephone and Internet surveillance program of this country’s citizens. There were few details of the top secret cyber security programs, but praise for the people who do it, CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer reported.
“They do this lawfully. They take compliance oversight, protecting civil liberties and privacy and the security of this nation to heart,” Gen. Keith Alexander said.
The NSA chief contends the surveillance programs have stopped or helped to stop dozens of terrorist attacks.
This as a new CBS poll found that 46 percent of those surveyed think the government has struck the right balance between fighting terrorism and privacy, while 36 percent say the NSA has gone too far.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle want to see some parts of these surveillance programs declassified — to help explain to the public what information is collected and how it is used.
Some were surprised by the extent of the program.
“This is newsworthy. It is a billion records a day. It’s everyone’s phone calls,” said Brad Sherman (D-Calif.).
Meanwhile, Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor behind the leaks that detailed the secret cyber security programs, spoke to reporters on Wednesday. Snowden explained to the South China Morning Post why he fled to Hong Kong, saying, “I am not here to hide from justice. I am here to reveal criminality.”
Snowden fled the U.S. last month after exposing two secret surveillance programs. He left his girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, behind. Her father said they dated for four years.
“He always had strong convictions of right and wrong. It makes sense, [but is] still shocking,” Jonathon Mills said.
Law enforcement sources told CBS News there is no evidence Snowden has left Hong Kong. The whistleblower also told the South China Morning Post he will fight any extradition attempts by the U.S. government.
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