WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama vigorously defended the government's newly disclosed collection of massive amounts of information from phone and internet records on Friday as a necessary defense against terrorism, and assured Americans, "Nobody is listening to your telephone calls."
"We have to make choices as a society," Obama said in his first remarks about revelations of the huge scope of government surveillance. "It's important to recognize that you can't have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience."
It was revealed late Wednesday that the National Security Agency has been collecting the phone records of hundreds of millions of U.S. phone customers. The leaked document first reported by the Guardian newspaper gave the NSA authority to collect from all of Verizon's land and mobile customers, but intelligence experts said the program swept up the records of other phone companies too. Another secret program revealed Thursday scours the Internet usage of foreign nationals overseas who use any of nine U.S.-based internet providers such as Microsoft and Google.
Obama, responding to questions at a health care event in San Jose, Calif., said safeguards are in place.
"They help us prevent terrorist attacks," Obama said of the surveillance programs. He said he has concluded that prevention is worth the "modest encroachments on privacy."
Obama said he came into office with a "healthy skepticism" of the program and increased some of the "safeguards" on the programs. He said Congress and federal judges have oversight on the program, and a judge would have to approve monitoring of the content of a call and it's not a "program run amok."
"If people can't trust not only the executive branch but also don't trust Congress and don't trust federal judges to make sure that we're abiding by the Constitution, due process and rule of law, then we're going to have some problems here," the president said.