In light of public concern regarding the wide-reaching XKeyscore surveillance program, courtesy of on-the-lam former NSA data miner Edward Snowden, President Obama announced a number of measures to "increase transparency and restore public trust in government surveillance programs."
During a Friday afternoon press conference, the President promised reforms and transparency, but he also defended the surveillance programs that he said "provided valuable intelligence" and were "worth preserving."
Specifically, Obama said that his administration had plans to introduce a number measures that he said would "strike the right balance between protecting our freedoms and protecting our interests."
Included among these measures, the President promised his administration would work with Congress to reform Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the section that the government used to legally justify the collecting of large swaths of metadata from Verizon.
Additionally, the administration would work to "improve the people's confidence" in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). This is the court that authorizes surveillance warrants against suspected foreign intelligence agents inside the United States and was the same court that ordered Verizon to provide the NSA with its ongoing feed of metadata.
One of the possible FISC reforms the President alluded to was an unspecified mechanism to provide more balance in judgments of privacy versus security. "A judge reviewing a request from the government only hears one side of the story and may tilt toward security and not toward liberty," said Obama. "We can provide greater assurances that the court is looking at these issues from both sides."
The president said the NSA will add a full-time civil liberties and privacy officer to advocate on the side of privacy. He promised to make the NSA more transparent to the public via a website "that will serve as a hub for further transparency to learn more about what our intelligence community does--and what it doesn't do."
One interesting comment hinted at during the Q&A section is that the government itself may be preparing to unveil its surveillance capabilities before Snowden gets a chance. "Instead of putting out a trunk here and a leg here," said Obama. "Let's put the whole elephant out there and see what we've got."
Snowden gets the riot act
Obama used some of his time on stage to criticize the methodology of leaks, which he described as being "released drip by drip, one a week, to kind of maximize attention."
Snowden was specifically singled out by the President as not being a patriot and whose actions were avoidable. "Mr. Snowden has been charged with three felonies. If in fact he believes what he did was right, like any American citizen he can appear before a court with a lawyer and make his case," Obama said. "If the concern is that somehow this was the only way to get this information out to the public, before any of this happened, I signed an executive order that provided whistleblower protection to the intelligence community."
Lastly, the administration will convene a "high-level group of outside experts" that will take a look at the government's surveillance capabilities and draft an interim report in 60 days and a full report by the end of the year.
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