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 233.

    6 Minutes ago

    If the killing of Lee Rigby or the 7/7 bombs had been prevented through spying would that not have been justified

    Glad you mentioned Lee Rigby. His killers were already known to security services. And the security services still slept on them. And you think I trust them with my information? They are clearly bumbling fools (Iraq dossier & tons of other gaffs)

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    So, does anybody still believe that the US intelligence agencies are capable of maintaining a massive cover-up such as the 9/11 conspiracy theorists maintain?

    After all both Manning & Snowden were pretty much at the bottom of the US intelligence gathering food chain & both managed to walk out of their respective workplaces with vast amounts of classified information.

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    Hundreds if not Thousands of U.K. Islamic fanatics fighting in Syria are we to assume that these Jihadist fanatics should be free to run amok once our boys return from the blood-bath ? or would it be wise to have surveillance on them ? or just stamp their passport and welcome them back from their holiday ? you can only imagine the rage that would be poured on the authority if they didn't !

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    The Russians, Chinese as most other countries, spy in order to gain an advantage.
    Those who say what we are doing is so appalling, are presumably NOT the same people who demand to know why our Intelligence Services failed to stop the next bomb exploding in London!!
    Looking after us can be a dirty business, but I prefer that, to terrorists being allowed to do what they want.

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    Please have a watch of this is you've the time (or at least the last 10 mins). A very interesting perspective of our 'democracy'.

    Certainly does make you wonder why we're hellbent on 'regime change' on North Africa and the middle east. IMO Syria and the Lebanon will be the next to fall thanks to our 'foreign policies'.


  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    steve @ 203 said:
    "Making Snowden into some sort of hero is sickening. He is a grubby little spy who has made the world more dangerous for those of us who don't want to kill others for no reason."

    The most naive comment so far?

    And whatever you mean by "...don't want to kill others for no reason." is subjective

    Like err … oil, petrodollar, influence by the unmentionables?

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    205. brontide - "When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. When the government fears the people, there is liberty."

    I don't totally disagree, but neither situation sounds particularly healthy.

    'Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering' (Yoda)

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    Interesting. The Americans spying on the Israelis. Mossad won't be happy. No wonder the US have been so worried. Talk about paranoia.

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    Privacy is ideal but security is essential, so IF, following technical reviews, there is no practical alternative to detecting the arrival, presence or criminal intent of a terrorist other than a periodic catch all comms sweep, then I would rather have that than no surveillance at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    @211. MrArsenalToYouLotDealWithIt
    In other News.
    Has anyone bothered to report to the Police that Prince William has in fact " broken the law " it is confirmed he sent a Text saying " he was going hunting with Beagles "
    He like everyone else should be aware Hunting With Dogs is illegal ! ///

    Since when has drag hunting been illegal, or rabbiting or game bird hunting?

  • Comment number 223.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    "I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery"
    - Thomas Jefferson

    ...how things have changed.

    The apparent outrage from our elected representatives in Europe rings a little hollow when they continue doing the bidding of the US


  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    When the STASI spied on anyone and everyone for the protection of the State, it was bad.

    When the NSA appear to be doing the same thing, it is good.

    I have to confess Angela Merkel had me fooled, I thought she was a decent politician on the side of the good guys.

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    sure, and, possibly that motion brought my "u.s," president is merely a gesture and amounts to nothing, in effect.

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    Federal judge declares NSA’s collection of “metadata” from virtually every call made to, from or within US violates 4th Amendment, constitutional provision protecting “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, & effects, against unreasonable searches & seizures.”
    Clinton - impeachment effort - Monica Lewinsky.
    Obama - spits on Constitution. Impeach?

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    @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?"

    That'll be the day, when our secret services go after tax dodgers! We are alway told it is "too complicated", since tax dodgers shift money internationally. Like terrorists?

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    Obama's reference to skinning a cat is interesting, he could be storing up big trouble. Once skinned the cat will die, and likely become the object of "dead cat bounce" and we all know what damage that can do to a politician in the wrong hands!

  • 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 215.

    57 Minutes ago

    Snowden is a traitor to every decent man and woman. He has abused the trust placed in him and helped further the exploits of terrorists.


    Absolute rubbish. A country is its people not its government. The people place their trust in its government. When the government abuses that trust then it`s the government who are the traitors.

  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    39.Mr Wonderful "Give Edward Snowden a Nobel prize - maybe institute a new one for whistle blowing."

    But he didn't stop spying by the US or any other country for that matter. It's happening every day by all governments around the world. Anyone who thinks differently is seriously having themselves on.


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