President Obama unveiled his plans to limit sweeping nation’s surveillance programs that have been highly criticized after leaks by a former spy agency contractor, saying the United States “can and must be more transparent.”
“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,” Obama told an afternoon press conference at the White House on Friday.
The president went on, adding that it was important to find the golden medium between security and civil liberties and promised to do his best to improve oversight of surveillance and restore public trust in the government’s programs, reports Reuters.
“It’s not enough for me as president to have confidence in these programs. The American people need to have confidence in them, as well,” Obama said, explaining that he was confident the programs were not being abused.
The U.S. president also mentioned a range of steps that would likely help to meet the target he set on Friday.
Obama swore to cooperate with Congress to pursue appropriate improvements of the telephone data program, to reform the secret court that approves that initiative; to improve transparency to provide as much information as possible to the public.
As CNN writes, the president also mentioned appointing a high-level, independent group of outside experts to review surveillance technologies.
“There’s no doubt Mr. Snowden’s leaks triggered a much more rapid and passionate response than if I had simply appointed this review board,” Obama said.
However, the U.S. president refused to characterise the former NSA contractor, who published top-secret agency’s programs online, neither as a “whistle-blower” or “patriot,” saying there were “other avenues” Snowden could have taken instead of doing what he did.
Snowden, who has been granted one-year asylum in Russia, has been charged with three felony counts related to the leaks, including violations of the U.S. Espionage Act.
If the whistleblower believes his actions were right, “he can appear before a court with a lawyer and make his case,” the president said.
Obama assured reporters that his decision to put off his trip to Moscow next month for a summit was not related to Russia’s decision to grant asylum to Snowden.
The U.S. head of state went on, adding that the country must “take a pause” and “calibrate the relationship” with Russia to assess where things stand, while “recognizing there are going to be some differences and we are not always going to agree.”
Since Putin was re-elected as president, Obama said he believes there has been a visible feautes of returning back to some Cold War attitudes with “more rhetoric on the Russia side that was anti-American.”
“I’ve encouraged Mr. Putin to think forward as opposed to backwards on those issues with mixed success,” the U.S. president said, admitting that the two countries have always had some tensions.