SAN JOSE (CBS SF) – President Barack Obama spoke in San Jose Friday to address concerns over recent revelations about national security programs as well as to tout California’s health care exchanges as a successful result of his health care legislation.
Obama, who was in the Bay Area for fundraisers on Thursday benefiting the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, came to the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose this morning and responded to media reports earlier this week about two programs being carried out by his administration.
The reports revealed that federal officials were collecting large amounts of phone records and were also collecting data from Internet companies like Google and Facebook as part of their anti-terrorism efforts.
Obama said the programs have been “authorized by broad bipartisan majorities” in Congress, which has “been consistently informed on exactly what we’re doing.”
He emphasized that the intelligence community is only looking at phone numbers and durations of calls, not who was talking nor the contents of the calls.
“Nobody is listening to your telephone calls, that’s not what this program is about,” Obama said.
“If thee just like they would in a criminal investigation,” he said.
As for the program involving the Internet companies, the president said it does not apply to U.S. citizens or people living in the U.S. and said that the actions of intelligence officials are overseen by the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
“Again, in this instance, not only is Congress fully apprised of it, what is also true is the FISA court has to authorize it,” he said.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, based in Washington, D.C., released a statement today criticizing Obama and calling on Americans “who value constitutional protections of privacy and the prohibition of unreasonable search and seizure to contact their elected representatives to ask that they end the all-encompassing monitoring of telephone communications and the Internet.”
The San Francisco Republican Party also released a statement, claiming the intelligence controversy was a new “scandal” for Obama and that he is “more and more beginning to appear as Nero who fiddled as Rome burned.”
Obama acknowledged that there are critics of the programs and their encroachments on privacy.
“I welcome this debate, I think it’s healthy for our democracy,” Obama said.
“We can’t have 100 percent security and also have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience,” he said. “We’re going to have to make some choices as a society.”
The debate comes down to “how are we striking this balance between the need to keep the American people safe and our concerns about privacy, because there are some tradeoffs involved,” he said.
“In the abstract, you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a potential program run amok, but when you actually look at the details, then I think we strike the right balance,” he said.
Obama also made prepared statements about the federal Affordable Care Act and California’s health care exchange program, which was announced last month by Covered California, the state agency created to set up the marketplace for individual insurance plans.
“Quality care is not something that should be a privilege, it should be a right,” he said.
The president said California is helping to lead the way in reducing the country’s health care costs. The state’s program will include 13 different plans offered for residents seeking health insurance who can sign up beginning Oct. 1.
“If you’re one of nearly 6 million Californians or tens of millions of Americans who don’t currently have health insurance, you’ll soon be able to buy quality, affordable care just like everybody else,” he said.
He said the competition between the various programs will create “better choices” for consumers.
The president’s news conference Friday morning started on a light note when he arrived to the podium to find that his prepared statement was missing.
“On Friday afternoon, things get a little challenged,” he said.
After calling for his aide to bring it, the aide tripped on a step leading to the stage, leading to laughter from the audience and a smile from the president.
“Folks are sweating back there,” he said.
Obama left the Bay Area following the speech, taking off in Air Force One from Moffett Federal Airfield in Mountain View on a flight to Southern California.
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