Obama on the defensive over snooping scandal
WITH a new scandal sweeping the White House, President Barack Obama has once more been put on the back foot.
He was forced to insist that "nobody is listening to your telephone calls" as he faced tough questions over whether he had allowed US surveillance to run out of control.
Speaking on the eve of a major US-China summit in California, Mr Obama was forced to answer accusations that his administration had expanded on Bush-era surveillance systems that he had once campaigned against.
Under intense fire from both the liberal Left and libertarian Right for trampling on constitutional freedoms, the president defended secret programmes that collect data on hundreds of millions of US phone calls and harvest huge amounts of online information about foreigners.
"In the abstract you can complain about Big Brother or how this is a potential programme run amok, but when you actually look at the details I think we've struck the right balance," Mr Obama said, insisting that they were vital in the fight against terrorism.
The statement was his first public comment since details of the two classified National Security Agency programmes were leaked to the Washington Post and the Guardian, prompting fury from civil liberties advocates.
Mr Obama, who as a candidate accused George W Bush of making a "false choice" between liberty and security, found himself accused of carrying on a "fourth Bush term" after embracing the surveillance apparatus designed by his predecessor.
Fresh revelations about the scale of America's surveillance programme divided both the Democratic and Republican parties in Congress. Many conservative Republicans found themselves in the unusual position of rushing to Mr Obama's defence, praising the intelligence gathering as a necessary step in the fight against terrorism.
But the scheme was criticised by Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican congressman who helped write the Patriot Act, the anti-terrorism legislation passed in the wake of the September 11 attacks. "Seizing phone records of millions of innocent people is excessive and un-American," he said. Mr Obama insisted that the NSA spying was authorised by congress and kept under strict oversight by the courts.
(© Daily Telegraph, London)