Obama vows reforms of surveillance
President Barack Obama has
promised "appropriate reforms" to
guarantee greater oversight of
controversial US surveillance
At a White House news conference, he
proposed "safeguards against abuse",
including amending legislation on the
collection of telephone data.
Mr Obama also urged appointing a
lawyer to challenge the government at
the nation's secretive surveillance court.
He has been defending the programmes
since they were leaked in June.
Snowden 'no patriot'
Mr Obama said on Friday that the US
"can and must be more transparent"
about its snooping on phone and
"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," he told reporters.
"It's not enough for me as president to
have confidence in these programmes,"
Mr Obama added. "The American people
need to have confidence as well."
The president unveiled four steps aimed
at reassuring the public:
He said he would work with
Congress to reform Section 215 of
the Bush-era Patriot Act, which
governs the programme that
collects telephone records
He directed justice officials to
declassify the legal rationale for the
collection, and said the National
Security Agency would put in place
a "civil liberties and privacy officer"
He proposed appointing a lawyer to
argue against the government at the
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance
Court, which is accused of
essentially rubber-stamping official
requests to scour electronic records
He announced the formation of a
group of external experts to review
all US government intelligence and
In response to a question about Edward
Snowden, the former NSA contractor
who leaked details of the surveillance
programmes to media, Mr Obama said:
"No, I don't think Mr Snowden was a
'Cold War stereotypes'
The president went on to criticise Russia,
which recently granted asylum to Mr
Snowden. Earlier in the week, Mr Obama
cancelled a planned summit with
President Vladimir Putin next month in
Mr Obama said there had been more
anti-American rhetoric since Mr Putin
returned to the Russian presidency,
which "played into some of the old
stereotypes about the Cold War contest".
"I've encouraged Mr Putin to think
forward as opposed to backwards on
those issues, with mixed success," said
He said that during his public interaction
with Mr Putin, the Russian leader "has
got that kind of slouch, looking like he's
the bored kid in the back of the
classroom". But he said their discussions
in private had been constructive.
Mr Obama also said he would not
consider it "appropriate" to boycott
Russia's Winter Olympics next year,
despite calls by gay rights activists to
shun the Sochi games because of a
recently passed law in that country
banning "homosexual propaganda".
He said the best way to combat the law
was for gay and lesbian athletes to do
well in the games.
"One of the things I'm really looking
forward to is maybe some gay and
lesbian athletes bringing home the gold
or silver or bronze, which would, I think,
go a long way in rejecting the kind of
attitudes that we're seeing there," he
"And if Russia doesn't have gay or
lesbian athletes, then, it'll probably make
their team weaker."
Earlier on Friday, Secretary of State John
Kerry and Defence Secretary Chuck
Hagel held talks with their Russian
counterparts in Washington DC.
Mr Kerry conceded the US-Russia
relationship had been complicated by
"the occasional collision" and
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
also acknowledged problems, but said
Moscow preferred to handle their
differences like "grown-ups".
The two countries agreed on the need to
convene a Syrian peace conference in
Geneva, Switzerland, as soon as possible.