President Obama on Friday offered a robust defense of the government surveillance programs revealed this week, and sought to reassure the public that his administration has not become a Big Brother with eyes and ears throughout the world of online communications.
“Nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” Mr. Obama said, delivering a 14-minute answer to two questions about the surveillance programs during a four-day trip to the West Coast at an event that was initially supposed to be devoted to the health care law. “That’s not what this program is about.”
The president’s remarks were his first since the revelations this week of programs to collect information about phone calls and Internet traffic. Mr. Obama said the programs help prevent terrorist attacks and they are kept in check by rigorous judicial and Congressional oversight.
He acknowledged that the public may be uncomfortable with the broad reach of the formerly secret programs, but he said he believed the government had struck the right balance between the need to fight terrorism and the need to protect privacy.
“You can’t have 100 percent security and then also have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience,” Mr. Obama said, repeatedly stressing that the lawmakers from both parties and federal judges were aware of the efforts. “You know, we’re going to have to make some choices as a society.”