Sen. Frank Church’s 1975 warning that government deployment of surveillance technology could mean “there’s no place to hide” was featured on Sunday’s “Meet the Press.”
Church’s caution, made on the Aug. 17, 1975, edition of Meet the Press, was used by host David Gregory to kick off a discussion of privacy vs. security, which prompted 2012 GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum to defend controversial surveillance by the National Security Agency.
The conversation continued the focus on leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who revealed government monitoring of the patterns of phone calls made in the United States, as well as overseas. Idaho’s GOP House members, Raul Labrador and Mike Simpson are split on the issue, with Labrador advocating an end to funding for the program and Simpson defending the practice. Snowden has been granted political exile in Russia, sparking calls for President Obama to cancel an upcoming meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
At the time of his 1975 appearance, Church was chairman a sweeping two-year inquiry by the “Church Committee,” formally known as Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities. The committee produced 14 reports and propelled Church into the national spotlight and a late-starting bid to upset front-runner Jimmy Carter for the 1976 Democratic presidential nomination. Church was defeated by Republican Steve Symms in his bid for a fifth six-year term in 1980. He died of cancer in 1983, at age 59.
In the clip played by host David Gregory, Church said:
“In the need to develop a capacity to know what potential enemies are doing, the United States government has perfected a technological capability that enables us to monitor the messages that go through the air. Now, that is necessary and important to the United States as we look abroad at enemies or potential enemies. We must know, at the same time, that capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left such is the capability to monitor everything — telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide.”
In response, Santorum, a former U.S. senator who said he may run for president in 2016, defended NSA’s practices.
“Well, here’s the debate we should be having. We have an enormous capability with technology and improving analyzing of big data. Everyone talks about big data. Well, guess what all of these metadata, information about who’s calling who? It’s big data. It’s just terabytes, it’s huge amounts of data. The question is, we can’t use human intelligence to review that.
“But what’s happening and what’s going on in NSA and other places is they’re developing algorithms, other things to be able to analyze it, not looking at any particular thing, but looking for patterns. Looking for things that would be helpful, which is not an invasion of privacy. It’s an analyzing of something that is, again, enormous amount of data, trying to find patterns to see if we can then draw conclusions from it. I don’t see that as interfering with anybody’s privacy. I think I see that as using the technology that everyone else is going to be using.”