I think we’re all concerned about Big Brother and the overreach we see the federal government in many levels. It’s not just with our emails, and surveillance and spy tactics. – Governor Gary Herbert
SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday the revelations that the National Security Agency spied on Salt Lake City during the 2002 Winter Olympics adds to his concerns about federal government overreach.
"I think we're all concerned about Big Brother and the overreach we see the federal government in many levels. It's not just with our emails and surveillance and spy tactics," the governor said.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said he will address the government's activities in Salt Lake City, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, at planned hearings this fall on NSA abuses by the House Judiciary Committee.
"The federal government needs to come clean. They need to tell us what they're doing," Chaffetz, a member of the committee, said. "Spying on innocent Americans is not the American way."
Utah's only Democrat in Congress, Rep. Jim Matheson, also said Congress needs to ask some tough questions about the reported monitoring of emails and texts over a period of six months surrounding the Olympics in February 2002.
"My reaction is both surprise and that it's a real concern," Matheson said.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he is looking forward to briefings and hearings on the domestic surveillance programs once Congress is back in session next month. He said Congress and the public need to provide oversight.
The governor told reporters at the taping of his monthly news conference on KUED Ch. 7 that the report doesn't affect his support of the NSA's massive Utah Data Center set to open this fall in Bluffdale.
Herbert said the $1.5 billion, 1 million-square-foot NSA facility — so top secret that the governor only got as far as the lobby during a recent ribbon-cutting ceremony closed to the media and the public — isn't the issue.
"It's not the building. Having the facilities here is not the problem. It's the people inside the building, those who run the NSA," Herbert said. "Storage of data and information is probably a good thing for us to be able to do."
The governor said the worry comes with "what they do, who's out there doing it, whose information they're storing and how they're getting it," concerns he plans to raise personally with members of Utah's congressional delegation.
"We need to believe and hope it's true that our Congress and our executive branch are working together" to make sure "we don't have some kind of rogue department or rogue individual that's out there violating our constitutional rights under the cause of public safety," he said.
However, Herbert said he understood why the agency and the FBI would want to monitor emails and texts, reportedly with the help of Qwest Communications.
Because the Olympics came just months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the United States, Herbert said, the government was just trying to make sure the public was safe during the Olympics.
"The Olympics have been targeted by terrorists in the past," he said. "So I cut them a little slack in that regard. That being said, the challenge we have is to make sure we have the appropriate balance."