(CNN) — Sweeping up Americans’ telephone records and monitoring Internet activity from overseas are “modest encroachments on privacy” that can help U.S. intelligence analysts disrupt terror activity, President Barack Obama said Friday.
“Nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” he reassured Americans worried about the prospect of government agents listening in on private conversations.
The public commentary on what, until Wednesday, had been top secret programs followed the first public confirmations of the program Thursday by Director of National Security James Clapper, who described the programs as limited, legal and crucial to national security.
Just three months ago, Clapper denied in a congressional hearing that the government was engaged in the mass collection of data on millions of Americans.
In statements issued Thursday, Clapper acknowledged that the United States is collecting domestic telephone records to ferret out terrorist plots.
He also indirectly confirmed the existence of a program using data from some of the world’s biggest online services companies — including Microsoft, Apple, Google, Yahoo and Facebook — to monitor the online activities of non-U.S. residents overseas.
But he said media reports suggesting widespread surveillance of U.S. citizens and their telephone and online habits have it all wrong, and such reports seriously endanger critical programs to protect Americans from terrorists.
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