President Barack Obama is defending his government's secret surveillance, saying Congress has repeatedly authorized the collection of America's phone records and U.S. Internet use. In his first comments since the programs were publicly revealed this week, Obama says safeguards are in place. He says nobody is listening to the content of phone calls.
At a speech that was supposed to be all about health care, President Barack Obama on Friday defended the growing controversy over government's access to telephone and online information, saying Congress has repeatedly authorized the secret collection phone records and Internet use.
"Nobody is listening to your telephone calls," Obama said at the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose. "I think on balance we have established a process and a procedure that the American people should feel comfortable about."
He said the information being collected is limited to numbers and duration, and he invited those in Congress opposed to these policies to debate them.
Obama's comments, which were quite lengthy in response to this new national controversy, came after Britain's Guardian newspaper first broke a story about the National Security Administration collecting "metadata" from millions of Verizon customers. NBC News also confirmed that U.S. intelligence agencies can tap into the servers of the country's largest Internet providers.
Obama said he holds the Constitution and privacy as utmost ideals. And he said he welcomed bipartisan debate of such policies even if some Republicans "weren't worried about it when it was a Republican president."
Still, he said these types of programs, which have been in existence since 2006, "help us prevent terrorist attacks, and the modest encroachments on privacy that are involved in getting phone numbers and duration without a name attached and not looking at content, and on the 'Net, that it was worth us doing."
While the phone controversy grabbed headlines, Obama's original intent was to focus on the Affordable Health Care Act, Obama's landmark health care legislation.
"It's working the way it's supposed to," Obama said, highlighting how there are 13 insurers in California who are now offering competitive prices on insurance rates. "The premiums are lower than expected."
Obama discussed the importance of the act, especially for the 10.2 million uninsured Latinos in the country. In California, there are 5.3 million people currently uninsured.
As of Jan. 1, 2014, no one can be denied health insurance and everyone in the country is mandated to buy insurance, while subsidies are offered to those in the lower income brackets. He wanted people to sign up for the plans at healthcare.gov or coveredca.com.
Before Obama spoke, San Francisco psychiatrist Dr. Laura Davies, an advisor to the Affordable Health Care Act, told NBC Bay Area the plan will save her money as a self-employed professional. "I"m probably going to pay $100 less a month, " she said.
But there are skeptics.
Silicon Valley professional Rebecca Nishiura fears she'll end up paying more for insurance through her company. "My main concern is that the premiums will be increasing. I'm also concerned about my care. Is it going to be affected?" Others worry that with thousands more Californians set to get insurance, doctors' officers will be flooded with new patients.
And an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Thursday shows that 49 percent of Americans think the signature health care reform law is a bad idea.
Aside from the big topics of the day, a lighter note of Obama's San Jose talk came when he stalled for a few moments before talking about Obamacare. His notes weren't at the podium.
"There's only one problem, my remarks aren't sitting up here....People!" Obama said with a chiding tone. "Things on Friday afternoon. Well, things get a little challenging."
Then, the president made a little small talk and shouted "People!" one more time. Finally, the papers were handed to him, only after his staffer stumbled to the podium.
"Oh goodness," Obama said with a big grin on his face. "Folks are sweating back there right now."
After his healthcare speech, Obama is set to take off for Los Angeles. There, he will have lunch at the home of Peter Chernin in Santa Monica. Tickets range from $10,000 to $32,400. Then, he'll fly to Palm Springs, for a two-daysummit with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The two are set to take to the sprawing Southern California desert to speak about cybersecurity, North Korea's nuclear threats and other big issues.
NBC Bay Area's Marianne Favro and NBC Universal's Managing Editor Josh Kleinbaum contributed to this report.