Obama: No ‘abuse’ of surveillance technologies
8/14/2013, 10:32 a.m.
Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from President Barack Obama’s conference with reporters in the East Room of the White House on Aug. 9.
In meeting the threats to our nation, we have to strike the right balance between protecting our security and preserving our freedoms.
Unfortunately, rather than an orderly and lawful process to debate these issues and come up with appropriate reforms, repeated leaks of classified information have initiated the debate in a very passionate, but not always fully informed way.
But 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.
I’m also mindful of how these issues are viewed overseas, because American leadership around the world depends upon the example of American democracy and American openness.
In other words, 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.
And so, today, I’d like to discuss four specific steps that we’re going take very shortly to move the debate forward.
First, I will work with Congress to pursue appropriate reforms to Section 215 of the Patriot Act — the program that collects telephone records. As I’ve said, this program is an important tool in our effort to disrupt terrorist plots. And it does not allow the government to listen to any phone calls without a warrant.
But given the scale of this program, I understand the concerns of those who would worry that it could be subject to abuse. I believe there are steps we can take to give the American people additional confidence that there are additional safeguards against abuse.
Second, I’ll work with Congress to improve the public’s confidence in the oversight conducted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, known as the FISC. The FISC was created by Congress to provide judicial review of certain intelligence activities so that a federal judge must find that our actions are consistent with the Constitution.
One of the concerns is that a judge reviewing a request only hears one side of the story. While I’ve got confidence in the court and I think they’ve done a fine job, I think we can provide greater assurances that the court is looking at these issues from both perspectives — security and privacy.
So, specifically, we can take steps to make sure civil liberties concerns have an independent voice in appropriate cases by ensuring that the government’s position is challenged by an adversary.
Number three, we can, and must, be more transparent. So I’ve directed the intelligence community to make public as much information about these programs as possible. We’ve already declassified unprecedented information about the NSA, but we can go further.
So at my direction, the Department of Justice will make public the legal rationale for the government’s collection activities under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. The NSA is taking steps to put in place a full-time civil liberties and privacy officer, and released information that details its mission, authorities, and oversight.