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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

On the Next Episode of The Lead

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June 7th, 2013
05:52 PM ET

Debate: Are we trading liberty for security?

Revelations that the National Security Agency has been indiscriminately collecting data on Verizon telephones, followed by reports that the NSA may also be monitoring websites, have sparked a debate about what the United States does in the name of security, and how much that infringes upon liberty.

President Barack Obama defended it all Friday afternoon.

"In the abstract you can complain about 'Big Brother,' and how this is a potential program run amok. But when you actually look at the details, then I think we have struck the right balance," said Obama.

The government now admits the existence of a massive internet spying operation run by the national security agency called PRISM, the operation was first reported by The Washington Post and The Guardian newspapers.

The president, in a tacit admission that the program exists, tried to assure the public that PRISM is only used to find and monitor foreign targets.

"Now, with respect to the internet, and emails. This does not apply to U.S. citizens, and it does not apply to people living in the United States," said Obama.

Intelligence officials using PRISM are supposed to have 51% confidence, however that is determined, that the target is foreign, which means a lot of American user information gets swept up along with it.

According to The Washington Post, the PRISM program mines data from nine of the country's biggest tech companies - Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, Paltalk, YouTube, Skype, and AOL.

Some of them are denying involvement.

Apple says it never heard of PRISM before The Washington Post reported the story. Google, Facebook and Yahoo said they never provided the government with direct access to their servers. Microsoft says it only turns over information with a court order.

News of PRISM's existence broke just a day after The Guardian newspaper reported that the NSA has also been seizing records of every call made in the U.S. on the Verizon network.

"Nobody is listening to your telephone calls, that's not what this program is about," said Obama Friday, trying to allay fears. "This program, by the way, is fully overseen, not just by Congress, but by the FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] court."

Years ago, CNN's Jake Tapper had a conversation with screenwriter Scott Frank, who wrote the 2002 film "Minority Report," adapted from a short story by Phillip K. Dick from the 1950s.

Scott said that before he wrote the movie, he and director Steven Spielberg convened an ideas summit of futurists, scientists, and technology geniuses to discuss what the future would look like.

One item on which everyone agreed on back then, in 1999, was that in the future, privacy would be a valuable - and rare - commodity, with the government and business worlds knowing almost everything about us.

The line, the president says, is difficult to draw.

"You can't have 100% security, and then also have 100% privacy, and zero inconvenience. You know, we are going to have to make some choices as a society," said Obama.

It is not easy. Americans arguably cared little about privacy after the Boston Marathon terrorist attacks. Many expected, even pleaded for an omniscient national security apparatus that could figure out who carried out the attack.

Pundits expressed gratitude for the cameras in downtown Boston. Some people were confused as to why it took so long.

And even though many now wish the federal officials had kept an eye on Tamerlan Tsarnaev after the Russians warned the U.S. about him, that may not mean people expected millions of Americans to be monitored - they just expected Tsarnaev to be monitored.

But can that be done without the system that has been set up?

Yet, it is not supposition, but fact, that when government is given wide-ranging powers to snoop, government officials abuse those powers –whether it is overreach by the Justice Department when investigating leaks and labeling journalists co-conspirators, or the IRS targeting a specific political persuasion for extra scrutiny.

Former ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee Jane Harman and Congressman Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, joined "The Lead" to debate whether Americans are trading liberty for security. Check out their discussion in the video above.

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