SUNNYVALE -- Vice President Joe Biden, campaigning Saturday for a Democratic congressman in Silicon Valley, sought to distance himself from criticism of government data-gathering programs that were revealed two weeks ago by a former National Security Agency contractor.
In recent days, civil liberties activists have been promoting a video clip of a 2006 interview in which Biden, then a U.S. senator from Delaware, voiced strong concerns about a National Security Agency program that collected telephone "meta-data," or records of calls made by Americans during the administration of President George W. Bush.
President Obama defended the collection of similar "meta-data" when he gave a speech in San Jose on June 7, while stressing that the government doesn't listen to actual phone conversations. But groups like the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation have sought to highlight the fact that Biden rejected that argument when it was offered by the Bush administration previously.
"I don't have to listen to your phone calls to know what you're doing," Biden told CBS News in a 2006 interview, which the foundation excerpted on its website last week. "If I know every single phone call you made, I'm able to determine every single person you talk to, I can get a pattern about your life that is very, very intrusive."
Biden didn't address the subject while visiting visited a local Hobee's coffee shop Saturday with U.S. Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, who is facing a re-election challenge next year from attorney Ro Khanna, a former Obama administration official. But when asked afterward if he had changed his views, Biden told the San Jose Mercury News: "No -- I was talking about a different program then. It was a different program."
The Bush administration program was controversial in part because it was undertaken without court approval. Obama administration officials say the current program was authorized by a secret national security court and conducted with the knowledge of congressional leaders.
The Obama administration is considering whether to declassify the court order that authorized the current phone surveillance program, according to a report Saturday by National Public Radio. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit last week challenging that program.
Contact Brandon Bailey at 408-920-5022; follow him at Twitter.com/BrandonBailey