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 153.

    It's the old saying that's as true as ever regarding the Unitrd States and Britain.

    "They'll do the right thing when they exhausted all other options."

  • Comment number 152.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    We all need the protection of bodies like the NSA. Snowden may have been right to point out that surveillance was being caried out. It was wrong to give away how. The Grauniad's support was inevitable from such a piece of sub-tabloid trash that flatters self-proclaimed intellectuals into thinking it's somehow meaningful.

  • 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.

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    History tells us that intelligence is cheaper and fare acceptable than outright war. My concern is not that internal espionage such as wire tapping is happening, but that it is happening so indiscriminately and the use to which such survelllance is put. I am more frightened of our local council and the incompetents behind it than I am of the Kremlin

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    So having been told for years that all this covert US/UK government activity is to protect us from terrorists it now turns out that most of the people being tracked weren't terrorists at all.

    So next time some politician starts banging on about political control of the internet to 'prevent terrorism' or 'protect the children' etc etc we'll all know what they really mean.

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    BA - 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".

    Not exactly full of remorse is he. We're gonna stop this and clean up this mess over here on the left, please don't look over there on the right.

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    As nations who are "broke and broker" do we have funds to spy on ourselves this much?

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    What has where Snowden found assylum got to do with whether or not he did the right thing? He sought assylum all over the world and ended up in one of the few countries that was not scared of what the US would do to them for harbouring him. What do you think he should have done? Submitted to "justice" in a place he could very likely have received the death penalty just to get rid of him?

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    Of course there will be a review - to ensure the security services are not vulnerable in the future to people like Snowden.

    Although he may be merely a naive idealist rather than a traitor, his actions have consequences that neither he nor the anti-establishment press can begin to imagine.

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    The review will just be to up the secrecy level of the spying so less people know about it so they won't suffer the embarrassment again of getting caught doing it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    124. kaybraes
    Obama seems ready to back down to anything or anyone who makes a noise on the populist front
    In comparison to the Bush Blair nightmare axis that preceded him, Obama is the voice of reason.
    In the UK, one million people marched against the Halliburton Hooligans' fictitious pretext for war - hardly reflective of a healthy democracy is it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    It all comes to what is perceived as a National Security threat. Before it was only terrorists, where one agrees, gathering intelligence is important to avoid major threats. However, the NSA has stepped too far in the name of extremist nationalism and the so called 'exceptionalism' where the president thinks they are 'special'.
    They are not.
    Snowden should get a Nobel Prize for peace, not Obama.

  • Comment number 140.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    It would be far quicker to provide a list of the people that the NSA and GCHQ haven't spied on.


  • Comment number 138.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that those who are so vociferous in their condemnation of surveillance have something to hide. Maybe a secret dalliance with a secretary, a tax fiddle or who knows what else? Personally I could not care a jot if the security services film me, read my emails, listen to my phone calls or anything else provided they protect my most fundamental right - to live!

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    'Unnecessary damage' as against necessary collusion?

    Worthy espionage and risk of unworthy are the prices we paiy for 'competition', division indocttrinated: "I'll take our 'sham democracy' over others any day of the week"!

    Good to be grateful, but vital to know no oath can binds to dishonour of God, parents or people. Excuse in 'trust' only in reason, not laziness, cowardice, collusion in crime

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    What so called democratic governments & establishment impose on people in secret supposidly to protect us, are the very reasons why governments including so called democratic ones, are little trusted.

    Nazis & Stalin used similar protection/security excuses.

    Thing is, how over the top can government & corporates be/become, at will & behest of those in positions of power/wealth/control

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    It is every citizens duty to defend the rights of it's people, whether foreign or domestic. If Edward Snowden had not spoken up, they would still be spying without our knowledge. Here in the UK we are not even given the time of day by this government? We must all assume our emails, video conferences & telephone calls are being monitored. This is not the society we want or deserve. Spied on!


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