updated 05:55 pm EDT, Fri June 7, 2013
Program called necessary, fully vetted by elected officials
President Obama has taken the national stage in defense of the leaked PRISM and telephone surveillance programs, calling the telephony effort "authorized by broad bipartisan majorities repeatedly since 2006" with elected officials "consistently informed on exactly what we're doing." He was circumspect with remarks about Prism, telling US citizens that the effort does not apply, and also calling it fully approved, and supervised by the FISA court.
Going into a little more detail in a journalist question and answer session after a healthcare brief in California, the President claimed that Prism and the telephone monitoring are "two programs that were originally authorized by Congress; have been repeatedly authorized by Congress; bipartisan majorities have approved them; Congress is continually briefed on how these are conducted; there are a whole range of safeguards involved; and federal judges are overseeing the entire program throughout."
President Obama noted that he knew about the program when he was a senator, and critized broad government surveillance. He said that "I came in with a healthy skepticism about these programs. My team evaluated them, we scrubbed them thoroughly, we actually expanded some of the oversight, increased some of the safeguards. But my assessment, and my team's assessment, was that they helped us prevent terrorist attacks. And the modest encroachments on privacy that are involved in getting phone numbers or duration without a name attached and without looking at content -- that on net, was worth us doing. Some other folks may have a different assessment of that."
Addressing the fact that both highly classified programs became known through leaks, the President said that "Because there's a reason why these programs are classified ... if every step that we're taking to try and prevent a terrorist act is on the front page of the newspapers or on television, then presumably the people trying to do us harm are going to be able to get around our preventive measures. That's why these things are classified."
Over the course of the day, Google CEO Larry Page joined the search engine's chief legal officer and continued the vigorous denial of Google's participation in any email surveillance program by the US Government. A blog post by the pair entitled "What the...?" claimed that Google has "not joined any program that would give the U.S. government--or any other government--direct access to our servers. Indeed, the U.S. government does not have direct access or a 'back door' to the information stored in our data centers. We had not heard of a program called PRISM until yesterday."
Google may suffer a credibility gap about data release -- the company failed to disclose Google Street View vans capturing Wi-Fi data as rounds were made even after it discovered the problem internally, calling the capture inadvertent by old code when finally forced to disclose the capture. Additionally, public disclosure of knowledge of a classified program regardless of prior leak is potentially prosecutable under a variety of laws, so denials by technology companies may be in question.