The Slatest

Obama Defends NSA Surveillance: “Nobody Is Listening to Your Telephone Calls.’

President Obama speaks after touring Mooresville Middle School in Mooresville, North Carolina, on June 6, 2013

Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama is in Northern California this morning, where he had planned to use a news conference to talk about the Affordable Care Act. Clearly, the press’s attention was elsewhere, say on the discovery of a rather sweeping government surveillance program that includes both cell phone carriers and Internet titans like Google and Microsoft.

The president stuck to the Obamacare script at the top of his appearance, but during a  two-Q-and-two-(long)-A session toward the end he offered his first remarks about the growing NSA controversy since the stories broke yesterday morning. A few choice quotes while we wait on the full transcript:


——”The programs that have been discussed over the last couple days in the press are secret in the sense that they are classified but they are not secret in the sense that when it comes to phone calls every member of Congress has been briefed on this program. 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. So I think it’s important to understand that your duly elected representatives have been consistently informed about exactly what we’re doing.”


——“When it comes to telephone calls, nobody is listening to your telephone calls. That’s not what this program is about. … What the intelligence community is doing is looking at phone numbers, and durations of calls; they are not looking at people’s names and they’re not looking at content. … If the intelligence committee actually wants to listen to a phone call they have to go back to a federal judge, just like they would in a criminal investigation.”


——“With respect to the Internet and emails, this does not apply to U.S. citizens and it does not apply to people living in the United States.”

——“One of the things we’re going to have to discuss and debate is how are we striking this balance between the need to keep the American people safe and our concerns about privacy. Because there are some trade-offs involved. I welcome this debate, and I think it’s healthy for our democracy.”

——“You can’t have 100-percent security and also have 100-percent privacy and zero inconvenience. We’re going to have to make some choices as a society.”

——“I don’t welcome leaks. There’s a reason why these programs are classified.”


The rest of Obama’s Friday is a full one. He next heads to Los Angeles for a private DNC fundraiser and then on to Rancho Mirage, where he’ll meet Chinese President Xi Jiniping for dinner. For more on PRISM and the Verizon story, head on over to Future Tense, which is all over the story.

Read more on Slate about the NSA’s secret snooping programs.