US secretary of state John Kerry mounted a strong defence of the Obama administration and the National Security Agency on Monday. He insisted that several of the news and headlines with regard to the surveillance of data from major Internet companies was a product of 'lies and misinformation'.
Kerry said that contrary to popular belief, the NSA programme did not look at content. "We do not look at content. We do not look at individual emails. We do not listen to people's calls. We take painstaking efforts sometimes at the expense of endangering ourselves, to protect the rights of people," he said.
He was responding to a question about the revelations made by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden whose exposure of secret US government surveillance has raised many questions around Internet privacy and 'snooping'.
The US secretary of state took pains to explain that the programme that Snowden had 'exposed' was nothing but a 'random survey' by computers, in which random numbers are connected to other numbers that intelligence agencies know are being used by terrorists.
"Once they find a connection, then and only then they go to a judge in a special court and ask for permission, meeting the standard of law to go ahead in a investigation," stated Kerry. He added that all three branches - the executive, legislature and judiciary - were not only aware of the programme, but also a part of it.
"And in doing so, the evidence has shown we have avoided terrorist activities and we have saved lives," added Kerry, saying that 'regrettably' we live in a world where people prefer to kill than be a part of the political world and participate in democracy.
"The programme is a judicious balance of civil rights, civil liberites and the right of people to live without being killed by terrorists," he added.
In respect to Snowden, who is now believed to be en route to Cuba from Moscow, Kerry said that the US had notified all appropriate countries that Snowden was an indicted man with three felony counts and he is wanted by the legal process by the US.
"It is disturbing if these countries ignore the standards of law. It would be very disappointing if he was willfully allowed to board a plane from Hong Kong after our request came through", Kerry added.
Kerry also took the opportunity to make a snide comment about Snowden's motivations, saying that it was no small irony that he had chosen China and Russia to aid him in his flight, especially given that the countries were 'such powerful bastions of Internet freedom'.