President Obama defended two recently revealed surveillance programs that involve examining phone and computer records, saying "modest encroachments on privacy" are necessary to counter terrorist threats.
"We're going to have to make some choices as a society," Obama said, noting that he was initially skeptical of the government programs when he took office. "In evaluating these programs, they make a difference in helping us to anticipate and prevent possible terrorist activity."
Obama, who spoke at a health care event, insisted that both programs are continually reviewed by Congress and a federal court: "When it comes to telephone calls, every member of Congress has been briefed on this program," he said. "With respect to all these programs, the relevant intelligence committees are fully briefed on these programs. These are programs that have been authorized by broad bipartisan majorities repeatedly since 2006."
He insisted that "nobody is listening to your telephone calls" and that with respect to the Internet and e-mails surveillance, it doesn't apply to U.S. citizens or people living in the United States.
Obama said that his team had tweaked the programs, adding some oversight and believed it found the "right balance.
"I know that the people who are involved in these programs, they operate like professionals and these things are very narrowly circumscribed," Obama said. "They're very focused. And in the abstract, you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a potential, you know, program run amok, but when you actually look at the details, then I think we've struck the right balance."