Barack Obama vows greater surveillance transparency
President Barack Obama has vowed “appropriate reforms” to guarantee greater oversight of controversial US surveillance programmes.
At a White House news conference, Barack Obama proposed “safeguards against abuse”, including amending legislation on the collection of telephone data.
The president also urged allowing a lawyer to challenge decisions by the nation’s secretive surveillance court.
He has been defending the programmes since they were leaked in June.
Barack Obama said on Friday that the US “can and must be more transparent” about its snooping on phone and internet data.
“Given the history of abuse by governments, it’s right to ask questions about surveillance, particularly as technology is reshaping every aspect of our lives,” he told reporters.
“It’s not enough for me as president to have confidence in these programmes,” Barack Obama added.
“The American people need to have confidence as well.”
Barack Obama unveiled four steps aimed at reassuring Americans about the surveillance:
- He said he would work with Congress to reform Section 215 of the Bush-era Patriot Act, which governs the programme that collects telephone records
- He directed justice officials to make public the legal rationale for the government’s phone-data collection activities, under Section 215
- He proposed allowing a lawyer to check the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which is accused of essentially rubber-stamping government requests to scour electronic records
- He announced the formation of a group of external experts to review all US government intelligence and communications technologies
In response to a question about Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who revealed details of the secretive surveillance programmes to media, Barack Obama said: “No, I don’t think Mr. Snowden was a patriot.”
The president went on to criticize Russia, two days after he cancelled a planned summit with President Vladimir Putin next month in Moscow.
Barack Obama said there had been more anti-American rhetoric since Vladimir Putin returned to the Russian presidency, which “played into some of the old stereotypes about the Cold War contest”.
“I’ve encouraged Mr. Putin to think forward as opposed to backwards on those issues, with mixed success,” Barack Obama told reporters, who held the news conference just before going on holiday at Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.
He said that during his photocalls with Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader “has got that kind of slouch, looking like he’s the bored kid in the back of the classroom”. But he said their discussions in private had been constructive.
Barack Obama also said he would not consider it “appropriate” to boycott Russia’s Winter Olympics next year, despite calls by gay rights activists to shun the games because of a recently passed law in that country banning “homosexual propaganda”.
Earlier on Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel held talks with their Russian counterparts in Washington DC.
John Kerry conceded the US-Russia relationship had been complicated by “the occasional collision” and “challenging moments”.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also acknowledged problems, but said Moscow preferred to handle their differences like “grown-ups”.