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Obama defends surveillance of American communications

Washington, June 18 (IANS) As the US whistleblower accused President Barack Obama of worsening “abusive” practices, Obama defended extensive surveillance of US communications, saying it had disrupted multiple terrorist plots and had adequate checks and balances.

Reacting to Edward Snowden’s charges that expanded surveillance programs instead of curtailing them as he promised as a candidate, he asserted that the administration was making “right trade-offs” in surveillance programs.

In an interview with PBS telecast Monday the president sought to distinguish his national security approach to those of former president George W. Bush and former vice president Richard B. Cheney.

“The whole point of my concern, before I was president – because some people say, ‘Well, you know, Obama was this raving liberal before,” he said during the interview – which conducted Sunday before leaving for Europe.

“‘Now he’s, you know, Dick Cheney.’ Dick Cheney sometimes says, ‘Yeah, you know? He took it all lock, stock and barrel,’ ” he said.

“My concern has always been not that we shouldn’t do intelligence gathering to prevent terrorism, but rather are we setting up a system of checks and balances?”

Obama’s remarks came as a series of blog posts purportedly by Snowden claimed that US authorities have access to phone calls, e-mails and other communications far beyond constitutional bounds, according to CNN.

In 90 minutes of live online chatting, the person identified as Snowden stopped short of accusing authorities of violating specific laws while suggesting legal restrictions can be easily skirted by analysts at the National Security Agency, FBI and CIA.

Instead, he was quoted as saying toothless regulations and policies were to blame for what he called “suspicionless surveillance,” and he warned that policies can be changed to allow further abuses.

Meanwhile, Obama argued, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, provided sufficient oversight of the NSA’s activities and said the government was “making the right tradeoffs” in balancing privacy rights with national security prerogatives.

“What I can say unequivocally is that if you are a US person, the NSA cannot listen to your telephone calls, and the NSA cannot target your e-mails,” he added, before the interviewer interjected, “And have not.”

“And have not,” Obama reiterated.

The number of requests for wiretapping orders from the FISA court, Obama said, is “surprisingly small.”

The president said in the PBS interview that the trade-off in privacy rights was worth it because the programs “have disrupted plots, not just here in the United States but overseas as well.”

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