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Obama defends phone, internet surveillance programs


08:00, June 08, 2013

WASHINGTON, June 7 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday defended the government's phone and internet surveillance program, stressing that the tracking of internet activity has not applied to U.S. citizens or people living in the country.

Obama played defense before media after delivering a televised speech on healthcare in the U.S. state of California, following days of reports on the government's secret surveillance programs.

"Nobody is listening to your telephone calls. That's not what this program is about," Obama told reporters about the phone surveillance part.

"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 are not looking at content," said the president. " But by sifting through this so-called metadata, they may identify potential leads with respect to folks who might engage in terrorism."

He also said that the tracking of internet information does not apply to U.S. citizens or people living in the country.

The president insisted that these surveillance programs have been fully authorized by the U.S. Congress and conducted to help prevent terrorist attacks.

"I don't welcome leaks, because there is a reason why these programs are classified," Obama told reporters.

According to the Guardian and the Washington Post reports on Thursday, the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and the FBI have been secretly tapping directly into the central servers of nine U. S. internet companies, extracting audio, video, photographs, e- mails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person's movements and contacts over time.

The highly classified program, code-named PRISM, has not been disclosed publicly before.

The program was established in 2007 and saw exponential growth in the past six years, the Washington Post reported on Thursday. The report quoted an internal document as saying the new tool was the most prolific contributor to the President's Daily Brief, which cited PRISM data in 1,477 articles last year.

"NSA reporting increasingly relies on PRISM" as its leading source of raw material, accounting for nearly 1 in 7 intelligence reports."

The technology companies all participated knowingly in PRISM operations. They include Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple. PalTalk is said to have hosted significant traffic during the Arab upheavals in 2011 and in the ongoing Syrian conflict.

The paper said the PRISM program appears to "resemble the most controversial of the warrantless surveillance orders issued by President George W. Bush after the al-Qaeda attacks of Sept. 11, 2001."

By late Thursday night, U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper moved quickly to defend the PRISM program, saying the related reports published by the two newspapers contained " numerous inaccuracies."

"Information collected under this program is among the most important and valuable foreign intelligence information we collect, and is used to protect our nation from a wide variety of threats," said Clapper in a statement.

Clapper insisted that the program is subject to oversight by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the Executive Branch and Congress, involving "extensive procedures" to ensure that " only non-U.S. persons outside the U.S. are targeted."

He also warned that "the unauthorized disclosure of information about this important and entirely legal program is reprehensible and risks important protections for the security of Americans."

U.S. Lawmakers will review the domestic surveillance laws after the reports of the NSA's classified program have provoked an uproar on Capitol Hill.

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