WASHINGTON — President Obama confirmed the existence of two highly classified surveillance programs Friday and told the American people he stands by them — but is open to having his mind changed.
Obama confirmed the reported NSA program allowing government agents to monitor the metadata related to millions of phone calls each day. He also confirmed the existence of the PRISM program, which allows the NSA to monitor internet traffic. Reports of both programs caused outrage on both sides of the political aisle.
Obama said not to worry.
"Nobody is listening to your telephone calls," Obama said. He added that the PRISM program doesn't apply to internet traffic by U.S. citizens or originating in the U.S.
The president said Congress has seen and signed off on both programs began under the Bush administration, and he said he suggest some Republicans may be changing their tune on them now that a Democrat is in the White House.
"I welcome this debate. I think it's healthy for our democracy, I think it's a sign of maturity because probably 5 years ago, 6 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 worried about it who weren't very worried about it when it was a Republican president," Obama said. "I think that's good."
Obama has kept the programs going, and echoed his national security tean, which as called them a "crucial tool" in preventing terrorist attacks.
"I came in with a healthy skepticism about these programs, my team evaluated them, we scrubbed them thoroughly, we actually expanded some of the oversight, increased some of the safeguards. But my assessment, and team's assessment was that they help us prevent terrorist attacks," Obama said. "And the modest encroachments on privacy that are involved in getting phone numbers or duration without a name attached and not looking at content that on net it was worth doing. Some other folks might have a different assessment of that."
"But I think it's important to recognize that you can't have 100% security and also then have 100% privacy and zero inconvenience," he added. "We're going to have to make some choices as a society."