US Intelligence Officials Call for Discussions on Privacy, Security

17 September, 2016

American officials say U.S. citizens should continue to talk about the balance between privacy and security.

Intelligence and security officials from the military and federal government joined experts from the computer industry and universities recently at a two-day-long meeting in Washington. They said complete privacy would hurt efforts to fight computer crime and terrorism.

James Comey, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was among those attending the Intelligence and National Security Summit. He said he understands that people do not want to have all of their personal information made public.

"I don't want anybody looking at my stuff. I don't want anybody looking at my banking information, my health care information."

But Comey said he must be concerned for the country's safety. He said the need for safety and the desire for privacy are sometimes in conflict. He said government officials and civil rights activists must work together to find a solution.

"We need to stop demonizing each other, stop saying 'It's impossible,' stop saying ‘Oh, you want to destroy this or destroy that' and sit down and say ‘Our values are in conflict -- that we all share -- what could we do?'"

Comey noted that Americans have never had the guarantee of complete privacy.

"The bargain our founders struck was: ‘Your stuff is private unless the people of the United States need to see it.'"

The U.S. Constitution does not state clearly that citizens have a right to privacy. However, the Fourth Amendment says people have a right "to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects."

The amendment guards against "unreasonable searches and seizures," and says government officials must have "probable cause" before a warrant can be approved.

It also says the warrant must describe "the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

The Cornell University Law School says the goal of this part of the Amendment "is to protect people's right to privacy and freedom from arbitrary governmental intrusions."

In order to be protected by the Amendment, a citizen must "demonstrate an expectation of privacy," one "that society is prepared to recognize as reasonable under the circumstances."

In other words, expectations of privacy can change if society changes.

Michael Rogers is the director of the National Security Agency.

"This has become such a charged, emotional issue that we're not really having that dialogue, and we're not getting into what's in the realm of (the) possible."

Rogers said there should be a discussion about what law enforcement officials can do and another about what they should do. He said that is a political discussion.

John Brennan is the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He urged a quick resolution to the tensions between security and privacy. He said the government and private business need to work together to find out how things should be done in the future.

"If we are going to help to secure and ensure the prosperity of that digital environment in the future, since it is privately-owned and -operated...and that's why I think this interaction and cross- fertilization between the public and private sector needs to be the way of the future. And I think here in the United States we can set a path for how this needs to be done."

I'm Christopher Jones-Cruise.

VOA Correspondent Zlatica Hoke reported this story from Washington. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted the report for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.

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Words in This Story

stuff – n. informal things, material, belongings or personal information

demonize – v. to cause, often unfairly, others to have a bad opinion of someone

bargain – n. an agreement

charged – adj. showing strong feelings about an issue with two opposing sides

dialogue – n. discussion between people

realm – n. an area of knowledge, a field

warrant – n. a court order permitting police to do something

arbitrary – adj. without reason, a plan or justification

intrusion – n. to come into a place where you are not wanted or welcome

prosperity – n. the state of being successful -- usually by making a lot of money

cross-fertilize – v. to combine (two different ideas, style, etc.) in a good or creative way

sector – n. an area of an economy; a part of an economy that includes certain kinds of jobs