US President Barack Obama has said he will work with Congress to implement changes to the oversight of the National Security Agency. This comes amid a controversy over the NSA’s surveillance activities.
President Obama told reporters at the White House on Friday that the new measures he hoped to introduce were designed to restore the American people’s trust in the country’s intelligence agencies.
“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,” the president said.
He told the press conference that he would ask Congress to review a section of the US Patriot Act that was passed in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington.
Section 215 of the Act gives US agencies the authority to conduct surveillance on internet activity and telephone records.
He said he would also pursue a reform of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which has to approve requests from law-enforcement agencies before they may being to target specific individuals for surveillance. Currently the secretive court only hears the case put to it by the agency seeking the approval. In the future, Obama wants the court to have to also hear a counterargument from a civil liberties group before deciding whether to grant the request.
“All these steps are designed to ensure that the American people can trust that our efforts are this line with our interests and our values,” Obama said.
“And to others around the world I want to make clear once again that America is not interested in spying on ordinary people,” he added.
Snowden not a patriot
The proposals come as the US National Security Agency (NSA) has come under fire for mass surveillance activities revealed by former government subcontractor Edward Snowden, who has been granted temporary asylum in Russia.
Asked about Snowden, the president indicated that US authorities would continue to do all they could to bring the whistle-blower to America so that they can put him on trial.
“I don’t think Mr. Snowden was a patriot,” Obama said.
Asked about the chill in ties between Washington and Moscow over this and other issues, he denied that he had a “bad personal relationship” with Russian President Vladimir Putin, despite the fact that he recently cancelled a Moscow visit.
At the same time though, Obama said there had always been tensions between the two countries and that this was a good time to reassess where they stood.
“Frankly, on a whole range of issues where we think we can make some progress Russia has not moved,” the president said.
pfd/dr (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)