By Matt Spetalnick and Steve Holland
SAN JOSE, Calif., June 7 President Barack Obama
on Friday staunchly defended U.S. government programs conducting
surveillance of Americans' phone and Internet activity,
insisting that they were conducted with broad safeguards to
protect against abuse.
"Nobody is listening to your telephone calls. That's not
what this program is about," Obama told reporters on a visit to
California's Silicon Valley.
He insisted that the surveillance programs struck the right
balance between keeping Americans safe from terrorist attack and
protecting their privacy.
Obama stressed that the programs are overseen by federal
judges and by Congress, where senators and representatives are
regularly updated on their use, and he said his administration
has also instituted audits to make sure safeguards are observed.
The Washington Post reported late on Thursday that federal
authorities have been tapping into the central servers of
companies including Google, Apple and Facebook to gain access to
emails, photos and other files allowing analysts to track a
person's movements and contacts.
That added to privacy concerns sparked by a report in
Britain's Guardian newspaper that the National Security Agency
(NSA) had been mining phone records from millions of customers
of a subsidiary of Verizon Communications.
Obama said he came into office with a "healthy skepticism"
about the surveillance programs, but came to believe the "modest
encroachments on privacy" are warranted.
"They make a difference in our capacity to anticipate and
prevent possible terrorist activity," he said.
The government's Internet monitoring program does not apply
to U.S. citizens or residents, he said.
"In the abstract, you can complain about 'Big Brother' and
how this is a potential program run amok, but when you actually
look at the details, then I think we've struck the right
balance," he said.