News Column

Obama: 'Nobody Is Listening' to Phone Calls

June 7, 2013
President Obama on the telephone (file photo)
President Obama on the telephone (file photo)

US President Barack Obama on Friday defended secret information-gathering by government security agencies after this week's revelations of massive collection of telephone and internet information.

"Nobody is listening to your telephone calls. That's not what this program's about," Obama said in response to a reporter's question, during an appearance in California to promote his government's health care policies.

"As was indicated, 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."

A secret programme called PRISM is the leading source of raw material for the National Security Agency, the secretive US intelligence operation that monitors electronic communications, the Washington Post reported Thursday, citing an internal presentation to senior NSA analysts.

US intelligence services tapped directly into the servers of at least nine leading internet companies including Google, Facebook, Apple, Yahoo, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Microsoft to extract emails, voice calls, videos, photos and other communications from their customers without the need for a warrant.

The PRISM report came a day after British newspaper The Guardian reported on FBI requests for details of all the phone calls that were placed over the network of the leading US telecommunications company Verizon.

Obama said that the PRISM programme "does not apply to US citizens, and it does not apply to people living in the United States" and is overseen by Congress and authorized by a special federal court established to handle secret information.

He said that under the telephone programme, security analysts "sifting through this so-called metadata ... may identify potential leads with respect to folks who might engage in terrorism."

"If the intelligence community then actually wants to listen to a phone call, they've got to go back to a federal judge, just like they would in a criminal investigation," Obama said.

Obama pointed out that the programme likewise is under congressional and court oversight.

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Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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