The public furor over the government’s cellphone and Internet surveillance programs is “hype,” President Barack Obama said Friday.
“When you look a the details, I think we’ve struck the right balance,” he said during a press conference in California, during which he simultaneously tried to reassure the public, push responsibility for the program on other politicians, and suggest it could be rolled back.
“Nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” he said. “That’s not what this program is about… they are not looking at people names, and they are not looking at [Internet or phone] content,” he said.
He described the surveillance as a “modest encroachment on privacy.”
“You can’t have 100 percent security and 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience,” he said. “We’are going to have make some choices as a society, and what I can say is that [this program] makes a difference in … anticipating and preventing attacks.”
However, Obama also tried to distance himself from the program.
The surveillance program is supervised by Congress and the courts, he said repeatedly.
Obama said he’s not merely asking the public to “trust me, we’re doing the right thing, we know who the bad guys are.” Instead, he said, “we’ve got congressional oversight and judicial oversight.”
The program has also been approved by his deputies, Obama said.
In 2009, “I came in with a healthy skepticism about some of these programs… my team evaluated them [and] my assessment and my teams’s assessment was that they help us prevent terrorist attacks.”
Even as he said the surveillance programs help prevent jihadi attacks, Obama also suggested that’s he’d like to roll back the surveillance. The country needs “to shift out of a perpetual war mindset,” he said.
“I think it is healthy for our democracy… because five years ago, six years ago, we might not have been wiling to having the debate,” he claimed.