Obama: “Nobody is listening to your telephone calls. That is not what this program is about.”


Seeking to reassure Americans after recent revelations about the intelligence community’s surveillance program, President Obama said Friday in San Jose that “Nobody is listening to your telephone calls. That is not what this program is about.”

“What the intelligence community is looking at is phone numbers and duration of calls. They’re not looking at names and not looking at content.,” Obama said in response to the one question he answered at the Fairmont San Jose appearance ostensibly to talk up his signature health plan, the Affordable Care Act.

But he sought to tamp down recent reports of increased online and phone surveillance of Americans.

Obama said that the program has been in place since 2006 with bi-partisan support. Plus, he said, should intelligence officers “actually want to listen to a phone call they have to go back to a federal judge” to obtain a court order.

When he took office, Obama admitted that he “came in with a healthy skepticism about these programs.” He said that his team “came in, scrubbed them thoroughly.“

Since then, his opinion of the surveillance program has softened.

“My assessment was they help us prevent terrorist attacks,” Obama said. “The modest encroachments” on privacy, he said, ”was worth us doing” them.

“You can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero percent inconvenience.” They make a difference in our ability to prevent terrorist attacks.”

Obama said he “welcomed” a debate on the issues, saying it was “healthy” and a sign of “maturity” to have such a discussion that he didn’t think was possible five or six years ago. If members of Congress, who are fully briefed on the programs, have a problem with them, they should speak up, he said.

But his tone stiffened when asked on the way off the stage about leaks.

“I don’t welcome leaks. There’s a reason why these programs are classified. There’s a suggestion that somehow any classified program is somehow a secret program which means it is somehow suspicious,” Obama said.

“On balance we have established a process and procedure that the American people should feel comfortable about,” he said.

“That’s not to suggest we just say, ‘Trust me. We know who the bad guys are.’”

However, if people don’t trust the government to conduct these classified operations and federal judges and Congress to provide oversight, “then we’re going to have some problems here.”

But, Obama said that the people involved in “protecting America”…”the last thing they’d be doing” is listen to somebody’s phone calls.

Joe Garofoli