President Obama on Friday will have ample opportunities to personally weigh in on the National Security Agency’s (NSA) domestic surveillance of phone records and Internet information – if he chooses to take them.
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Obama will then speak at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser in Santa Monica before travelling to Rancho Mirage, where he has a slate of events scheduled with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Observers will be watching to see if Obama breaks from his prearranged remarks and regimented schedule to discuss the main news story of the day – the NSA’s seizure of phone records and data mining of Internet, which has dominated headlines over the last 24 hours and prompted scathing criticism from civil liberties advocates.
Obama on Thursday avoided talking about the program, instead talking about a classroom broadband plan during a visit to a North Carolina school. He also didn’t raise the issue at a fundraiser on Thursday night.
If Obama does not address the issue on Friday, pressure will grow on him to speak about it over the weekend as the issue is likely to dominate talk on the Sunday morning news shows.
In the meeting with China's leader, Obama is expected to discuss cybersecurity — the U.S. has accused the Chinese government of hacking U.S. officials. It could exacerbate the headache that privacy issues have become for the administration, as the Chinese government is well-known for its aggressive surveillance of its own citizens.
The Associated Press, Reuters, Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal and Fox News are the pool media outlets that will be following the president through a packed day of public and private events in California.
The White House on Thursday defended the NSA program as a critical tool in the war on terror.
The program has been in place since 2007, and a handful of Republicans and Democrats on Thursday also defended it, saying there were tight restrictions on what the NSA has access to and arguing it had prevented at least one terrorist attack.
But the program has prompted criticism from the right and the left, including a scathing editorial Thursday in The New York Times.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Friday wrote an op-ed in The Guardian – the U.K. paper that broke the NSA story – calling Obama a hypocrite for vowing to safeguard citizen freedoms as a candidate, but for riding “roughshod over liberty” as president.