WASHINGTON, June 7 (KUNA) -- US President Barack Obama on Friday defended
the National Security Council's controversial surveillance of American
citizens, saying it was not possible to have security without compromising
some measure of privacy.
His reaction to leaked government documents was delivered at a press
conference from California, where he is meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping
later in the day.
"In the abstract, you can complain about 'big brother' and how this is a
potential program run amok," said Obama. "When you actually look at the
details, I think we've struck the right balance."
The remarks came a day after The Washington Post uncovered reports about a
USD 20 million program called PRISM, through which the US government was able
to tap into the central servers of internet giants like Google and Facebook to
track user activity. Those reports followed The Guardian newspaper's leak,
showing documents indicating blanket surveillance of cell phone calls by the
National Security Agency (NSA).
The president insisted that only certain identifiers are needed from the
"Nobody is listening to your telephone calls. That's not what this
program's about. As was indicated, what the intelligence community is doing is
looking at phone numbers and durations of calls. They are not looking at
people's names, and they're not looking at content," said Obama. He added that
this also does not apply to American citizens or those living in the US.
"This program, by the way, is fully overseen not just by Congress but by
the FISA Court, a court specially put together to evaluate classified programs
to make sure that the executive branch, or government generally, is not
abusing them," he added.
The president said he welcomes a discussion on these issues, but does not
welcome the leak of classified documents.
"I think it's healthy for our democracy. I think it's a sign of maturity,
because probably five years ago, six years ago, we might not have been having
this debate," Obama said.
"There is a suggestion that somehow any classified program is a
quote-unquote "secret" program, which means it's somehow suspicious. But the
fact of the matter is, in our modern history there are a whole range of
programs that have been classified because, when it comes to, for example,
fighting terror, our goal is to stop folks from doing us harm," he said.
Obama reassured the public repeatedly that there is far-reaching oversight
when it comes to these programs.
"Congress is continually briefed on how these are conducted," he said.
"There are a whole range of safeguards involved. And federal judges are
overseeing the entire program throughout." (end)
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