President Barack Obama on Friday forcefully defended revelations that the National Security Agency is collecting phone records and electronic communications, saying that Congress was fully briefed and the programs are limited in scope.
“The programs are secret in the sense that they are classified. They are not secret, in that every member of Congress has been briefed,” he said during a speech in San Jose, Calif. “These are programs that have been authored by large bipartisan majorities repeatedly since 2006.”
“Your duly elected representatives have consistently been informed,” he said.
Obama said the internet and telephone surveillance program struck the right balance between privacy and security.
His message: Trust my administration.
“The people involved in America’s national security – they take this work very seriously,” Obama said.
“The last thing they’d be doing is taking programs like this to listen to people’s phone calls.”
Obama’s comments came after reports this week in Britain’s Guardian newspaper and the Washington Post revealed that the National Security Agency and the FBI had secretly conducted surveillance of Americans’ telephone and internet communications activities far beyond what had been made public.
The news accounts – subsequently confirmed by officials – roiled Washington DC, with privacy advocates criticising the surveillance as an unlawful intrusion and many in Congress defending the programmes as appropriate counter-terrorism tools.
“Nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” Obama assured the nation after two days of reports that many found unsettling.
In California on Friday, Mr Obama noted both NSA programmes had been authorised repeatedly by Congress and were subject to continual oversight by congressional intelligence committees and by secret intelligence courts, reports the BBC News.
The president said he had come into office with a “healthy scepticism” of both programmes, but after evaluating them and establishing further safeguards, he decided “it was worth it”.
“You can’t have 100% security, and also then have 100% privacy and zero inconvenience,” Mr Obama said.
Now the law enforcement and security officials are likely to pen a criminal investigation into the leaking of highly classified documents that revealed the secret surveillance of Americans’ telephone and email traffic, U.S. officials said on Friday, informs Reuters.
Such investigations typically begin after an agency that believes its secrets have been leaked without authorization files a complaint with the Justice Department.
Several of the Internet companies, including Apple and Facebook, denied in carefully worded statements that they provided the government direct access to their servers, and said they would not have done so without a court order.
But their involvement remained unclear Friday, as the surveillance program was authorized by a court and likely would have set up a designated route to transfer data so that direct access to the servers would have been unnecessary, says the Huff Post.
In a statement, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg encouraged all governments to be more transparent about programs to keep the public safe.
Prism was reportedly developed in 2007 out of a programme of domestic surveillance without warrants that was set up by President George W Bush after the 9/11 attacks.
Prism reportedly does not collect user data, but is able to pull out material that matches a set of search terms.