CREDIT: White House
President Obama announced on Friday that he plans to institute new reforms to include greater oversight of the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs, just over two months after former NSA consultant Edward Snowden leaked secret documents detailing their scope and reach.
During a White House press conference, Obama noted that, as he stated in a speech back in May, he had planned on conducting a thorough review of the oversight of U.S. counterterror programs but Snowden’s leaks have forced a conversation about them in a “very passionate but not always fully informed way.”
“It’s right” to ask questions about surveillance, Obama said, but “it’s not enough for me to have confidence in these programs, the American people have to have confidence in them as well.” Thus, the president announced four steps toward reform.
First, Obama said he would work with Congress to reform the authorities authorizing NSA surveillance so that they include more safeguards and oversight to further protect from abuse.
Obama said he would also push to give greater assurances to the American people that privacy is being protected with the secret court authorizing surveillance, including having government arguments “challenged by an adversary.”
Third, Obama said he wants to declassify more information about the programs, including the legal rationales behind them, and create a website to learn more about U.S. surveillance activities.
Finally, Obama said he would assemble a team of outside independent experts to review communications and surveillance technologies and issue a report on findings and recommendations by the end of the year.
“We have significant capabilities but we also show a restratint that governments around the world refuse to show,” Obama said, later adding, “I am comfortable that the current program is not being abused.”
Calls for more transparency of the NSA’s programs have been bipartisan and spanned across ideological lines, from scores of Democrats in Congress and the top Republican on the Senate intelligence Committee to the NSA director during President George W. Bush’s administration. Others — like Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) have suggested that the secret court authorizing surveillance should have a privacy advocate arguing against the government, similar to what Obama alluded to on Friday.
While Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mark Udall (D-CO) have been speaking out against what they see as NSA overreach, the House of Representatives recently debated legislation to rein in the Agency’s spy programs. While the measure was narrowly defeated, experts and analysts saw the vote alone as a turning point toward legalizing restraint.