President Barack Obama responded Friday to reports that the National Security Agency is collecting millions of phone records and tapping into data from leading tech companies, pushing back against what he described as “hype.”
Obama said that the revelations in the reports should not have come as a surprise to members of Congress.
“Now the programs that have been discussed over the last couple of days in the press are secret in the sense that they’re classified but they’re not secret in the sense that, when it comes to telephone calls, every member of Congress has been briefed on this program,” Obama said during a press briefing in San Jose, Calif. “With respect to all these programs, the relevant intelligence committees are fully briefed on these programs.”
The President then insisted that the government is not eavesdropping on anyone’s phone calls.
“When it comes to telephone calls, nobody is listening to your telephone calls. That’s not what this program’s about,” Obama said. “As was indicated, what the intelligence community is doing is looking at phone numbers and durations of calls. They are not looking at peoples’ names and they’re not looking at content. But by sifting through this so-called metadata, they may identify potential leads with respect to folks who may engage in terrorism.”
He added: “If the intelligence community then actually wants to listen to a phone call, they have to go back to a federal judge just like they would in a criminal investigation. So I want to be very clear: some of the hype that we’ve hearing over the last day or so, nobody’s listening to the content of peoples’ phone calls.”
Obama also reassured Americans that a sweeping new program named PRISM revealed by the Washington Post and the Guardian yesterday that allows the government to sift through phone logs and Internet data is subject to Congressional oversight and is in the interest of national security.
“This does not apply to U.S. citizens, and this does not apply to people living in the United States,” Obama said in California.
“I came in with healthy skepticism about these programs,” he added. “I can say that evaluating these programs they make a difference to anticipate and prevent possible terrorist activity.”