During a press conference today, President Barack Obama responded to news that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been monitoring internet activity and the telephone records of millions of Verizon customers (video below).
"The programs that have been discussed the last couple of days in the press are secret, in the sense that they are 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.
However, Obama failed to mention that the American people were not "briefed" on these programs, which were exposed by Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian.
"These are programs that have been endorsed by broad bi-partisan majorities, repeatedly since 2006," Obama said. “Your duly elected representatives have been consistently informed on exactly what we’re doing.”
He added: "When it comes to telephone calls, nobody is listening to your phone calls. That's not what this program is about. The intelligence community is looking at phone numbers and durations of calls. They are not looking at people's names and they're not looking at content ... but they may identify potential leads with respect to folks who might engage in terrorism."
Obama said the NSA would have to go to a federal judge in order to listen to a conversation just like a "criminal case."
However, Obama did not mention that the FISA court used by the NSA is secret and is not publicly accountable like a normal criminal court.
Obama claimed the PRISM program for internet monitoring had been keeping records of electronic data, but does not apply to American citizens or to anyone living in the United States, reported Mediaite.com.
During the press conference, Obama, who has waited days to address the issues stated:
“I welcome this debate and 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.”
“I think it’s interesting that there are some folks on the left, but also some folks on the right who are now worried about it who weren’t very worried about it when it was a Republican president."
“I think it’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience. We're going to have to make some choices as a society.”
However, since the Patriot Act was signed by President George W. Bush in 2001 and re-authorized by Obama, the American people have had no choice when it comes to covert surveillance by the NSA.