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 273.

    2 Hours ago

    If you are not doing anything illegal then you should not care one bit about being spied on.


    Excellent, would you mind if i come into your home and install cameras and microphones?

  • rate this

    Comment number 272.

    265. Billythefirst

    Snowden gave up a comfortable life and is in exile, unable to move - I'd say that takes more balls than any of the armchair generals posting their absurd clatrap on these boards have.
    Do you think he is more financially secure now?

  • rate this

    Comment number 271.

    Just hinting at a rethink?

    You have lost the trust of all your counter-parts and pretty much everyone around the world including your own citizens.

    It is getting increasingly difficult to label the 'good guys' any more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 270.

    Would you prefer more terrorist attacks or continued spying?
    So long as the spying prevents terrorism I know what I prefer.
    Keep on spying, I've nothing to hide, have you?

  • rate this

    Comment number 269.

    Any word from Obama on a pardon for Chelsea Manning?

  • rate this

    Comment number 268.

    Step back why does it matter to a law abiding citizen if conversations etc are listened to I would feel a lot safer with everyone under surveillance than no one. Only people who have something to fear eg terrorists criminals etc or anyone who breaks the law eg ignoring official secrets act that they signed up to can really have any objections to this unless used for unlawful purposes

  • rate this

    Comment number 267.

    he wants to find another way to skin the cat? In other words he still wants the results and intends to have them but will find a way to get them that we won't know about till another Snowdon emerges.

  • rate this

    Comment number 266.

    While finding NSA has violated 4th Amendment rights of virtually every person in the US, actual reach of Judge Leon’s injunction—stayed pending appeal - is limited to TWO plaintiffs: Larry Klayman & Charles Strange (whose son was a Navy Seal killed while on a mission in Afghanistan.)
    What we need is for every US Citizen to become a plaintiff.

  • rate this

    Comment number 265.


    Snowden gave up a comfortable life and is in exile, unable to move - I'd say that takes more balls than any of the armchair generals posting their absurd clatrap on these boards have.

  • rate this

    Comment number 264.

    248. Peter N

    Perhaps they need to import more foreign labour to keep the shelves well stocked, as for game, and other meats available ? I will pass thank you preferring instead to trust my very local butcher to provide me with real " quality " meat as he has done for years and years and will once again be providing me with my Goose.

    What the above has to do with spying I don't know :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 263.

    Really? Snowden caused unnecessary damage by letting people know the government was performing an unconstitutional surveillance program of it's own citizens and it's allies. I take it the damage done by the NSA to principles of the US was necessary then?

    I wonder if reporting crimes not committed by "your" government would be seen as damaging?

  • rate this

    Comment number 262.

    233. Riggadon "[The security services] are clearly bumbling fools (Iraq dossier & tons of other gaffs)"

    The secret nature of the security services means that we only hear about their failures. The sentationalist nature of our anti-establishment press (thanks, BBC) means that we hear about these failures again and again, ad nauseam, We need to use our intelligence to redress the balance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 261.

    Time to REALLY worry because I would bet my life that any future changes made to the NSA would make their spying much worse and much more secure from any public scrutiny. If you believe any of Obama's lies then you have no idea about his track record for honesty.

    This whole NSA spying story was planned a long time ago with the media narrative of Problem - Reaction - Solution

  • rate this

    Comment number 260.

    "Should we go to war in Afghanistan?" UK Gov
    "Where is that?" Replies UK pop
    "Middle East" Replies UK Gov
    "Why?" Replies UK pop
    "Because the USA got their arses slapped for poking their noses in where it wasn't wanted" Replies UK Gov
    "What's that got to do with us?" UK pop
    "We must stand against terrorism" UK Gov
    "But we're not being terrorised" UK pop
    "After this we will be" UK Gov

    Thanks Tony.

  • rate this

    Comment number 259.

    Revealing the fact that a Country's intelligence services are routinely monitoring it's own citizens is one thing. Revealing the methods, technology and targets of external covert operations is quite another. The latter is treason.

  • rate this

    Comment number 258.

    People may or may not admire Snowdon. Either way, please stop referring to him as 'brave' or a 'hero'.

    Firemen are brave.
    Bomb disposal officers are brave.
    Someone who dives into a swollen river to rescue a child is brave.

    Someone who merely steals from his employer ain't brave.

  • rate this

    Comment number 257.

    Oh dear, this has been going on for years - certainly since 1994 when US & UK intelligence cached all Mobile conversations looking for key words that might trigger investigation - this was long before 911. Now the terrorists are more sophisticated and careful in their communications and the West needs to respond and adapt accordingly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 256.

    David Cameron is either a massive hypocrite, or incredibly uninformed.

    Either way, those are two traits in a leader I dont want.

  • 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 254.

    "peaceful slavery" v "dangerous equal freedom"

    In aggressive competition we make enemies & we spy & we affect outrage at enemies & spies. If this thread reflects honest opinion, sad news is that thought struggles to be independent; the happier that if spies mirror the population any ill deeds will be in ignorance, or despair, rather than 'evil' rejection of a 'democracy' at all clearly understood


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