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In a 45-minute interview with PBS' Charlie Rose, President Obama defended a government program that collects vast data about the electronic activity of Americans.
Obama rejected comparisons to the Bush-Cheney administration, saying his administration had implemented new safeguards to protect Americans' privacy.
"Some people say, 'Well, you know, Obama was this raving liberal before. Now he's, you know, Dick Cheney.' Dick Cheney sometimes says, 'Yeah, you know? He took it all lock, stock and barrel.' My concern has always been not that we shouldn't do intelligence gathering to prevent terrorism, but rather are we setting up a system of checks and balances," Obama said.
He also made a distinction that others in his administration have been making: The government is looking at metadata — duration, time and date, for example — not the content of phone calls. He said some people will say that with that metadata you could glean names and other information.
"All of that is true, except for the fact that for the government, under the program right now, to do that it would be illegal. We would not be allowed to do that," Obama said.
The president defended the transparency of the program, but he also said he has asked the intelligence community to meet and decide whether more details of the program can become public.
"What I've asked the intelligence community to do is see how much of this we can declassify without further compromising the program," Obama said. "And they are in that process of doing so now."
Update at 6:33 a.m. Obama Hints At Bernanke Exit:
President Obama also hinted at an exit for Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who he said had stayed in his post "longer than he wanted or he was supposed to."