NSA leaks: Obama hints at surveillance rethink


President Obama said the US had to "provide more confidence to the international community" over NSA activities

US President Barack Obama has suggested there may be a review of surveillance by the National Security Agency in the wake of a series of spying revelations.

He said in "light of disclosures that have taken place" and public concerns about the programmes "there may be another way of skinning the cat".

But Mr Obama said ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden had caused "unnecessary damage" by leaking documents.

He declined to say whether or not Mr Snowden could be offered an amnesty.

Edward Snowden fled the US in late May, taking a huge cache of secret documents with him. He faces espionage charges in the US and has been granted temporary asylum in Russia.

President Obama made his comments at an end-of-year news conference at the White House.

Earlier in the week a federal judge declared the mass collection of telephone data unconstitutional and a presidential advisory panel suggested reforms.

NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland The NSA was found to have engaged in large-scale trawling of phone call data

Both the judge and the panel said there was little evidence that any terror plot had been thwarted by the programme.

"There are ways we can do it, potentially, that gives people greater assurance that there are checks and balances, that there's sufficient oversight and sufficient transparency," Mr Obama said.

He said that programmes like the bulk collection of phone records "could be redesigned in ways that give you the same information when you need it without creating these potentials for abuse".

Mr Obama said he would make a "definitive statement" in January about recommendations by the White House panel.

"I have confidence in the fact that the NSA is not engaging in domestic surveillance or snooping around," he added.

But bearing poster in support of Edward Snowden Edward Snowden has his supporters in the US, as this Washington bus shows

"We may have to refine this further to give people more confidence. And I'm going to be working very hard on doing that."

On the subject of possibly granting Mr Snowden an amnesty, Mr Obama said: "I will leave it up to the courts and the attorney general to weigh in on Mr Snowden's case.''

On Friday, more details of people and institutions targeted by UK and US surveillance - from documents leaked by Edward Snowden - were published by The Guardian, The New York Times and Der Spiegel.

The papers said the list of about 1,000 targets included an EU commissioner, humanitarian organisations and Israeli officials including a prime minister.

They suggested that more than 60 countries were targets of the NSA and Britain's GCHQ.

The European Commission said in a statement that the claims, if true, "deserve our strongest condemnation".

"This is not the type of behaviour that we expect from strategic partners, let alone from our own member states."

In October, news that the NSA had monitored the phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel triggered a diplomatic row between Berlin and Washington.

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff was also angered by revelations that the NSA had hacked the computer network of Brazil's state-run oil company Petrobras to collect data on emails and telephone calls.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 282.

    I've mixed feelings about Snowdon's actions.

    Some of what he revealed was in the public interest, some of it was against the National Interests of the US and other Countries.

    I suspect his actions were well intention, I am convinced some good has come out of his revelations.

    But too much has been revealed to our enemies, and that need not have been done.

  • rate this

    Comment number 255.

    The debate isn't security versus privacy. It's liberty versus control. You're expected to give up control of your privacy to others, who presumably get to decide how much of it you deserve. That's what loss of liberty looks like

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    If the killing of Lee Rigby or the 7/7 bombs had been prevented through spying would that not have been justified, even though the perpetrators were (nominally) British?

    Indeed how many such atrocities have been prevented by the security services? We are unlikely to know.

    Surveillance is a necessary evil. and it is far less evil than the consequences of doing nothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    Surveillance rethink? Yes, perhaps. Rethinking how to obscure their entire operation and preventing such an expose ever happening again. Does anyone really think any spy agency will pull back its activities? No, of course not. They will only seek to find better ways of hiding their ops, keeping tighter control of key personnel and ensure their activities will never be exposed to the public again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    To those who say "if you've done nothing wrong you need not worry.." I would suggest you consider lessons from history.
    Changes in government may put you at odds with what is considered "right"

    With regard to terrorism; Government has always used external threats to control at home. Get a sense of proportion.

    Snowden has done as all a service.


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