House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was booed and interrupted by a group of liberal activists after defending the NSA’s electronic surveillance program at a conference in Silicon Valley on Saturday.
Pelosi condemned National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden for exposing the agency’s controversial data-gathering practices, noting that what he did was illegal.
“He did violate the law in terms of releasing those documents,” Pelosi told attendees of the annual Netroots National conference of liberal Internet activists. “We have to have a balance between security and privacy.”
She also said it was unfair to compare the president’s office to President George W. Bush’s “fourth term”, and argued that Obama’s administration increased oversight of the NSA by giving the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) courts a role in approving the agency’s programs.
“People on the far right are saying oh, this is the fourth term of President Bush,” Pelosi said. “Absolutely, positively not so.”
Pelosi’s comments provoked the crowd, prompting conference attendees to boo and interrupt the lawmaker they previously looked up to. Security guards escorted one activist out of the conference room because he stood up and questioned Pelosi too loudly.
“It’s not a balance. It’s not constitutional!” shouted 57-year-old Marc Perkel from Gilroy, Calif., before being escorted out. “No secret laws!”
Several other activists walked out in support of the man, angry at the California Democrat’s remarks. Others shouted comments in support of Perkel, and expressed their opposition to the NSA surveillance program, with some calling the US a police state.
“Leave him alone! Secrets and lies! No secret courts! Protect the First Amendment,” the audience members shouted, according to the San Jose Mercury News.
“You suck!” one man yelled at Pelosi. Conference moderator Zerlina Maxwell tried to calm the crowd, telling the activists that they should submit questions via Twitter rather than yelling them out, but Pelosi said she welcomed the shouted questions. After being booed and interrupted, the House Minority Leader continued to discuss the NSA scandal, noting that the problem is the outsourcing of government programs to contractors such as Booz Allen Hamilton, which is where Snowden worked.
Outside the hall, Perkel told the San Jose Mercury News that he believes Pelosi has good intentions, but simply does not fully understand the NSA's data collection programs. The lawmaker received positive reactions on many of the other issues she discussed, including gay and lesbian workplace rights and bringing more women into positions of power. But regarding the NSA, the liberal activists were largely disappointed in their leader.
“We’re listening our progressive leaders who are supposed to be on our side of the team saying it’s OK for us to get targeted for online surveillance,” Jana Thrift of Eugene, Ore., told the San Jose Mercury News. “It’s crazy. I don’t know who Nancy Pelosi really is.”