BERLIN -- President Obama today defended his administration's "narrow" phone and Internet surveillance, saying that "lives have been saved" because of the programs.
"We know of at least 50 threats that have been averted because of this information, not just in the United States, but in some cases, right here in Germany," the president told reporters at a joint press conference in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The president stressed that these programs are supervised by the courts to limit encroachment of privacy. "This is not a situation in which we are rifling through ordinary emails of German citizens or American citizens or French citizens or anybody else. This is not a situation where we go into the Internet and start searching any way we want. This is a circumscribed, narrowed system directed at us being able to protect our people," he said.
Obama admitted that he was critical of the previous administration's surveillance and that he came into office with a "healthy skepticism" about how these programs were structured. "What I have been able to do is examine and scrub how our intelligence services are operating. I'm confident that at this point we have struck the appropriate balance," he said.
Obama and Merkel said they discussed the programs at a bilateral meeting earlier today. Merkel said their conversation helped foster a greater understanding of the programs and their value.
The president reiterated that he welcomes the public debate surrounding surveillance and said he is looking for additional ways to declassify parts of these programs.