Another Bush-era program, the "total information awareness" program, would have combined vast government databases into a data-mining effort to look for suspicious patterns revealing potential criminal or terrorist activity. It was official dropped amid intense outcry from civil libertarians.
Also, in 2003, a former AT&T technician made a splash when he alleged that the telecom was routing all Internet traffic into a special NSA-controlled room in San Francisco.
Last year, Bamford wrote in Wired magazine about a huge data center being built for the NSA in Utah. Officials have officially labeled the center as part of the nation's effort to fight cyberattacks, but the Wired article, citing former NSA officials and others, said it was part of a huge surveillance program that would take in and analyze untold amounts of data.
Obama takes heat
The reports have increased scrutiny of Obama's record on balancing citizens' right to privacy and the government's efforts to combat terrorism.
Days after taking office in 2009, Obama vowed, "Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency." But on Thursday, the left-leaning Huffington Post on its home page conflated an image of Obama with one of his predecessor, Bush, in a move to criticize the secret surveillance both administrations have been accused of.
A New York Times editorial said "the administration has now lost all credibility" when it comes to overreaching in the name of fighting terrorism.
Obama said Friday that he entered office skeptical of the programs. But after thoroughly vetting them and adding additional safeguards -- which he did not identify -- Obama said he concluded they were worthwhile.
"My assessment and my team's assessment was that they help us prevent terrorist attacks," he said. "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 it was worth us doing."
Obama said he welcomed debate on the issue, but said some compromises are going to be necessary, no matter what.
"I think it is important to recognize that you can't have 100% security and then also have 100% privacy and zero inconvenience," he said. "You know, we are going to have to make some choices as a society."