SAN JOSE — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was heckled and booed by liberal activists Saturday when she said that Edward Snowden broke the law when he revealed classified information about secret surveillance programs.
Another round of disapproval came when the former House speaker said Americans’ rights to privacy must be balanced with the nation’s security needs.
Snowden “did violate the law in terms of releasing those documents,” she said during a luncheon Q-and-A on the closing day of Netroots Nation, an annual gathering of thousands of liberal activists and bloggers.
The crowd erupted in boos.
“I understand, but he did violate the law. And the fact is, again, we have to have the balance between security and privacy and we don’t know what sources and methods may been revealed, which is a tough thing,” said Pelosi, a Democrat from San Francisco.
The Ask the Leader event took place on the final day of the annual conference, and as the United States announced that it was trying to extradite Snowden from Hong Kong to face charges under the Espionage Act of unauthorized communication of national defense information and providing U.S. classified intelligence to an unauthorized person. Snowden worked for a government contractor and leaked information to two news organizations about the government’s surveillance of phone and email records.
Many at the conference have heaped praise on Snowden, saying his actions revealed unconstitutional governmental overreach. Pelosi acknowledged her disagreement with many of them.
“I feel sad that this had to come down to this,” she said. “I know some of you attribute heroic status to that action, but you don’t have the responsibility for the security of the United States. Those of us who do have to strike a different balance.”
Until then, the 90-minute session had been largely uneventful, with the crowd giving Pelose a standing ovation at the beginning of her remarks. But when the discussion turned to the surveillance controversy, tensions rose immediately.
As she began describing the need to balance privacy with freedom, Mark Perkel of Gilroy stood up and interrupted: “It’s not a balance. It makes us less safe.”
As security guards led him away, he yelled, “It’s unconstitutional! No secret courts! No secret law!”
Perkel, who voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012, said he was “in shock” over the disclosures.
“It was wrong when [former Vice President Dick] Cheney did it. It’s wrong when Obama does it,” the 57-year-old told reporters outside the luncheon.
Inside, Pelosi was arguing that there has been greater oversight of such programs during the Obama administration than under President George W. Bush and Cheney, and that in coming days she expected Obama to reveal more information about the proceedings of the secret court that has oversight over the surveillance program.
“People … are saying this is the fourth term of George Bush,” Pelosi said. “Absolutely, positively not so.”
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