WASHINGTON — President Obama claims he is “comfortable” that the nation’s surveillance program is not being abused, but he’s not saying why, if that is true, he is also proposing significant reforms, including a change to a key provision of the Patriot Act.
The president also apparently no longer considers the National Security Agency scandal “phony,” because he announced the proposals before beginning his first solo news conference in nearly four months Friday.
The administration has been under heavy criticism ever since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who was recently granted temporary asylum in Russia, revealed the U.S. government is collecting an enormous amount of data on Americans.
So, the president announced four steps he said will reform the system and restore public trust, while still insisting the government is not spying on Americans.
Obama claims current laws and safeguards prevent the NSA from collecting information without a warrant, but WND has reported many sources, including a Democratic congressman, say that is not true.
While the administration claims the data collected is limited to phone calls and email records and not the content of those transmissions, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said he was “startled” to learn in a secret congressional briefing how NSA analysts can decide for themselves whether to access the content of a domestic phone call.
The Washington Post, the Guardian and CNET have all reported the NSA is collecting content of phone calls and emails without obtaining warrants.
In making his four proposals, the president said there is a need to strike the right balance between “between protecting our security and preserving our freedoms.”
- Reform section 215 of Patriot Act, the program that collects telephone records. He called it “an important tool” against terrorism but also admitted, “We can take steps to put in place greater oversight, greater transparency and constraints on the use of this authority.”
- Change the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, to “provide greater assurances that the court is looking at these issues from both perspectives — security and privacy.” Obama proposed ensuring “the government’s position is challenged by an adversary” when it asks for authority to spy on someone.
- Make the intelligence community more transparent. Obama will direct the intelligence community to make public as much information about these programs as possible. He also announced the “NSA is taking steps to put in place a full-time civil liberties and privacy officer and release information that details its mission, authorities and oversight.” Additionally, the NSA will have a website to learn more about what the agency does, and does not do.
- Form a high-level group of outside experts to review all intelligence and communications technologies. Obama said, “We need new thinking for a new era” in which technology has given the government unprecedented capability to monitor communications. They are to provide an interim report in 60 days and a final report by the end of this year.
The president said there are patriots on both side of the debate over which is more important, liberty or security.
A reporter asked if that meant the president now sees Snowden as a patriot, to which he replied, “no.”
“Mr. Snowden’s been charged with three felonies. If in fact he believes that what he did was right, then, like every American citizen, he can come here, appear before the court with a lawyer and make his case,” said Obama.