The top US intelligence official stressed yesterday that a previously undisclosed programme for tapping into internet usage is authorised by Congress, falls under strict supervision of a secret court and cannot intentionally target an American citizen.

The US Government spying project, Prism, is said to have the ability to monitor individuals' activity on the web in unprecedented detail, both inside and outside the US.

President Barack Obama defended the counterterrorism methods and said Americans need to "make some choices" in balancing privacy and security. But the President's response underscores the nerve touched by the disclosures and the sensitivity of the Obama Administration to any suggestion of trampling on civil liberties.

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