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Obama Defends NSA’s Surveillance of Phone, Web and Credit Card Use

June 7, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT

JEFFREY BROWN: Revelations that the government is checking up on phone calls, Web traffic and credit card sales prompted the president to speak out today. He said intelligence officials are trying to keep the country safe from terrorism, and they’re doing it under close supervision.

It’s now known the National Security Agency is running three highly classified surveillance programs. The first to be publicized collects phone call data from millions of Verizon, AT&T and Sprint customers.

Last night, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper also confirmed the existence of PRISM, targeting the Internet. It taps into the central servers of nine major U.S. companies, including Google, Apple, Yahoo!, and Facebook, to access e-mails and other files.

Today, The Wall Street Journal reported the NSA also catalogues credit card transactions.

Hours later, President Obama defended the NSA’s activities at a stop in San Jose, Calif.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Nobody is listening to your telephone calls. That’s not what this program’s about. They are not looking at people’s 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 might engage in terrorism. Now, with respect to the Internet and e-mails, this doesn’t apply to U.S. citizens, and it doesn’t apply to people living in the United States.

JEFFREY BROWN: The programs began in 2006, and the president said they have been monitored by Congress and the courts all along.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Bipartisan majorities have approved them. Congress is continually briefed on how these are conducted. There are a whole range of safeguards involved. And federal judges are overseeing the entire program throughout.

JEFFREY BROWN: Many in Congress support the surveillance, while other lawmakers, along with civil libertarians, have voiced alarm.

President Obama said, that’s all to the good.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: One of the things that we’re going to have to discuss and debate is how were we striking this balance between the need to keep the American people safe and our concerns about privacy? Because there are some tradeoffs involved. And I welcome this debate.

JEFFREY BROWN: At the same time, the president denounced the leaks that triggered the debate.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think that there is a suggestion that somehow any classified program is a — quote, unquote — “secret program,” which means it’s somehow suspicious.

If every step that we’re taking to try to prevent a terrorist act is on the front page of the newspapers or on television, then, presumably, the people who are trying to do us harm are going to be able to get around our preventive measures.

JEFFREY BROWN: The president said he plans to address the issue further in coming days.