Shaken following the leak of secretive data by former CIA analyst Edward Snowden, President Barack Obama has announced a series of reviews of US surveillance programmes so as to bring transparency and win public confidence.
“What I’m going to be pushing the intelligence community to do is rather than have a trunk come out here and a leg come out there and a tail come out there, let’s just put the whole elephant out there so people know exactly what they’re looking at, let’s examine what is working, what’s not, are there additional protections that can be put in place and let’s move forward,” Obama said at a news conference.
Acknowledging that the recent leaks to these secretive American internet and phone surveillance programmes, has given the general impression, not only among the American public but also around the world, that somehow the US is out there willy-nilly just sucking in information on everybody, Obama said the US laws specifically prohibit the Administration from surveilling US persons without a warrant.
And there are whole range of safeguards that have been put in place to make sure that that basic principle is abided by, he said.
“Because what makes us different from other countries is not simply our ability to secure our nation; it’s the way we do it, with open debate and democratic process,” he said as he spelled out the series of steps that he is taking to bring transparency to the process and win people’s confidence.
They include reforms in the Patriot Act on the programme that collects telephone records and to improve public confidence in the oversight conducted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC).
The measures also include directing the intelligence community to make public as much information about these programmes as possible, and forming a high level group of outside experts to review entire intelligence and communication technologies.
Obama said he is tasking an independent group to step back and review US capabilities, particularly its surveillance technologies to consider how the US can maintain the trust of the people, how to make sure that there absolutely is no abuse in terms of how these surveillance technologies are used, ask how surveillance impacts its foreign policy, particularly in an age when more and more information is becoming public.
“They will provide an interim report in 60 days and a final report by the end of this year, so that we can move forward with a better understanding of how these programmes impact our security, our privacy and our foreign policy. So all these steps are designed to ensure that the American people can trust that our efforts are in line with our interests and our values,” Obama said.
“To others around the world, I want to make clear once again that America is not interested in spying on ordinary people. Our intelligence is focused above all on finding the information that’s necessary to protect our people and, in many cases, protect our allies,” said the US President.