At a press conference at the White House on Friday, President Obama called for reforms to the National Security Agency’s (N.S.A.) surveillance programs to restore the public’s confidence in the N.S.A.’s tactics. Despite his continued faith in the legality of the programs, the president stressed the general public must have proof the United States government in not encroaching into their privacy.
“It is not enough for me as president to have confidence in these programs,” said Obama.
The president outlined four specific reforms that will increase transparency and oversight of the N.S.A. spying program. First, Obama would like to work with Congress to reform Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows collection of phone data. Second, the president aims to strengthen the oversight capabilities of the secret court that “checks” the data collection. Third, the N.S.A. will set up a privacy and civil liberties office, as well as a website that will “serve as a hub of further transparency.” Finally, the president intends to bring in a group of “outside experts” to review the extent of the N.S.A. surveillance program.
These experts will review the nation’s surveillance laws and will submit an interim report to the president in 60 days and a full report by the end of the year. The group will be charged with coming up with “new ideas” to ensure privacy from the NSA.
Obama reiterated his rebuke of intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, but claimed Snowden’s leaks “triggered a much more rapid and passionate response.” Obama believes the conversation that Snowden sparked, however, would have come without him breaking the law. “It would have been less exciting, it would not have generated as much press,” the president said, adding, “I don’t think Mr. Snowden is a patriot.”
The NSA’s activities are clouded in secrecy because the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that decides the agency’s jurisdiction only issues secret rulings, a practice Congress has voted twice to continue. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) says this amounts to “secret law.”