Obama defends surveillance programs, promises more oversight

Late last Friday, US president Barack Obama has held a press conference centered mostly on US surveillance programs, the details of which have been leaked, bit by bit, by former Booz Allen employee and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in the last two months.

You can find the transcript of the conference here, but here are the main points in short:

  • Obama says that he called for a review of our surveillance programs – before Snowden leaked the NSA documents
  • that he as President has confidence in these programs, but that he American people need to have confidence in them as well
  • that he will work with Congress to pursue appropriate reforms to Section 215 of the Patriot Act (the program that collects telephone records)
  • that he will work with Congress to improve the public’s confidence in the oversight conducted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC)
  • that he has directed the intelligence community to make public as much information about these programs as possible
  • that they will form a high-level group of outside experts to review US intelligence, communications and surveillance technologies.

What was conspicuous is that he never said that the surveillance would stop.

The speech was met by a healthy dose of skepticism by some, and outright indignation by others.

In the meantime, The Guardian has come out with the claim that a loophole allows NSA to search for US citizens’ emails and phone calls without a warrant – an allegation that has apparently been confirmed by US Senator Ron Wyden, a member of the Senate intelligence committee.

“The previously undisclosed rule change allows NSA operatives to hunt for individual Americans’ communications using their name or other identifying information,” wrote the journalists. “The authority, approved in 2011, appears to contrast with repeated assurances from Barack Obama and senior intelligence officials to both Congress and the American public that the privacy of US citizens is protected from the NSA’s dragnet surveillance programs.”

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