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Obama defends phone, Internet surveillance

Xinhua | Updated: 2013-06-08 07:17

WASHINGTON - 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 September 11, 2001."

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