'Yes we scan': Obama defends NSA surveillance programs in Europe


President Barack Obama defended Friday the National Security Agency's massive surveillance programs that have caused an uproar after they were exposed by the Guardian newspaper in London.



US President Barack Obama defended the widely criticized National Security Agency surveillance programs run under his administration in Berlin Wednesday. 

He made the remarks during a joint press conference with German Chanchellor Angela Merkel.

Germans are sensitive to issues of privacy rights and internet freedom, and Merkel brought up the topic during a joint news conference conducted with the US leader.

"What I can say to everybody in Germany and everybody around the world is this applies very narrowly," said Obama after Merkel pressed him on the issue, according to the Los Angeles Times. 

"This is not a situation in which we are rifling through the ordinary emails of German citizens or American citizens or French citizens or anybody else," he said. "This is not a situation where we can go on to the internet and start searching any way we want."

Obama reiterated twice that "lives have been saved" by the program, as he noted that the NSA surveillance program was a "circumscribed, narrow system directed at us being able to protect our people."

He also added that the NSA's system has averted 50 terrorist attacks since it was introduced after 9/11.

Merkel, for her part, noted that the dialogue with Obama had “brought us forward” towards better mutual understanding fo the rationale behind the NSA surveillance, though she warned that “the question of balance and proportionality is something we will continue to discuss,” according to Politico.

"I came into office committed to protecting the American people but also committed to our values and our ideals and one of our highest ideals is civil liberties and privacy," Obama said in response, according to Reuters. 

"I am confident that at this point we have struck the appropriate balance."

More from GlobalPost: Five years later, a dimmer reception for Obama in Germany (VIDEO)

Obama's reception in Berlin was decidedly cooler than his visit in 2008 as a campaigning senator. Before his speech at Brandenburg Gate Wednesday, protesters held up signs saying, "Yes we scan."

[View the story "German protesters greet Obama with 'Yes We Scan' slogan" on Storify]