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Obama: 'Nobody is listening to your telephone calls'

President Obama explains the NSA's secret surveillance program at an event in California, reassuring the public, "When it comes to telephone calls, nobody is listening to your telephone calls. That's not what this program's about."

President Obama defended what he called long-standing Internet and phone monitoring programs as valuable tools to fight terrorism, saying that congressional lawmakers have been repeatedly briefed on the program and that federal judges oversee the program “throughout.”

“Nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” Obama said. “That’s not what this program is about. As was indicated, what the intelligence community is doing is looking at the numbers and durations of calls. They’re not looking at names and they’re not looking at content, but sifting through this so-called meta data, they may identify potential leads with respect to people that might engage in terrorism.”

He said the programs have been subject to congressional and judicial review and approval.

“I think on balance we have established a process and a procedure that the American people should feel comfortable about,” Obama said.

The president’s remarks came one day after the revelation of two secret programs that allow government intelligence agencies to gather information on domestic phone and Internet usage by American citizens.

“I don’t welcome leaks, because there’s a reason why these programs are classified,” Obama said, regarding the unauthorized release of confidential documents such as the one that led to the initial Guardian report on the phone records program.

The president made the comments following a statement on the Affordable Care Act in San Jose, Calif. The president is scheduled to begin a two-day summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping in California later on Friday.

According to the Washington Post, Internet companies including Google and Facebook are denying involvement in National Security Agency programs, named PRISM and BLARNEY, which allow the government to look at archived data and information as it is being transmitted. NBC's Peter Alexander reports.

On Thursday, the United States’ top intelligence official declassified details of the top secret phone records program after it was revealed, while also blasting the leak. 

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper took the step in a statement issued on Thursday night, after media reports revealed the programs that have been used to collect the phone records of Americans and monitor Internet use.

Referencing a report that first appeared in Britain’s Guardian newspaper, Clapper said that the “unauthorized disclosure of a top secret U.S. court document threatens potentially long-lasting and irreversible harm to our ability to identify and respond to the many threats facing our nation.”

Clapper said in the statement that he was declassifying some details of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to “provide a more thorough understanding of the program.”

“Although this program has been properly classified, the leak of one order, without any context, has created a misleading impression of how it operates. Accordingly, we have determined to declassify certain limited information about this program,” Clapper said.

The program does not allow the government to surveil the contents of phone calls made by Americans, but what is referenced in the order published by the Guardian as “telephony metadata” includes the sending and receiving telephone numbers and the length of the call, according to Clapper.

“The collection is broad in scope because more narrow collection would limit our ability to screen for and identify terrorism-related communications,” Clapper said. “Acquiring this information allows us to make connections related to terrorist activities over time. The FISA court specifically approved this method of collection as lawful, subject to stringent restrictions.”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Thursday that government powers under the Patriot Act are reviewed by a “robust legal regime.”

Clapper also said that members of Congress, some of whom reacted with indignation to media reports about the program on Thursday, had been “fully and repeatedly briefed” on the program described in the Guardian article. Similar statements about Congressmembers’ knowledge of the program were made by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, on Thursday.

“It began in 2009 – what appeared in the Guardian today, as I understand it, is simply a court reauthorization of a program. The court is required to look at it every three months,” Feinstein said.

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