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 293.

    To all those who marked me down at 258. Sorry if my stating a fact upset you, but marking it down is a bit like marking someone down for saying "it gets dark at night".

    Oxford dictionary definition of 'brave' :

    "Ready to face and endure danger or pain"

    I suggest you write to the OED if you think it should now read:

    "Ready to face and endure danger or pain, to steal from one's employer".

  • rate this

    Comment number 292.

    Just now

    This is the business of Government.

    All the blinkered people who were shocked at Snowden's revelations should grow up.


    By `grow up` i assume you mean hand over our freedoms without question and permission to those who think they know better how to use those freedoms. No thank you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 291.

    @288: "This is why we are not a Fascist State or a Theocracy"

    Yet we have CCTV everywhere, your coms are monitored and we have a monarch who is also head of the church of our nation.

    What was that about blinkered?

  • rate this

    Comment number 290.

    It was all lies, lies.lies coming out of NSA & GCHQ. People must not forget that is what these 'people' do for a living, lie.


  • rate this

    Comment number 289.

    This is a difficult problem. The BBC has campaigned for Obama, supports the Democrats over the horrible Republicans and T Party, but is allied to the more general anti US sentiments of the adolescent left in Europe. And now the great President is seen to be authorising spying and drones against the chosen people, and is not going to recognise Snowdon as a Guardian supporting hero. Over to the SWP

  • rate this

    Comment number 288.

    This is the business of Government.

    All the blinkered people who were shocked at Snowden's revelations should grow up.

    We have the illusion of safety within our country and beyond because others have the guts to take actions that we don't want to know about and probably wouldn't be able to perform ourselves.

    This is why we are not a Fascist State or a Theocracy.

    Our freedom is worth the cost

  • rate this

    Comment number 287.

    '278. enjoysnj
    USA = United Spying Agency'

    id use either;




    .....spying agency

  • rate this

    Comment number 286.

    The NSA spying problem is another symptom of a leadership failure problem that is prevalent throughout the modern world. The complex decisions required for modern living require understanding and guidance from experts as well as the public conscience. Too often we rely on ambitious egotistical individuals who, with no publicly approved guidance, use their limited minds make up their own rules.

  • rate this

    Comment number 285.

    Judas Snowden ! from whom will this traitor receive his pieces of Silver from ? to be continued ....

  • rate this

    Comment number 284.

    'Earlier in the week a federal judge declared the mass collection of telephone data unconstitutional...the judge and the panel said there was little evidence that any terror plot had been thwarted by the programme'

    Have they resurrected J Edgar Hoover to do this?

  • rate this

    Comment number 283.

    Congress - no idea what the NSA was doing.
    Congress members on the intelligence oversight committees – kept in dark.
    Current judges on secret spying court admit they’re out of loop & powerless to exercise real oversight. When these judges raised concerns about NSA spying, the Justice Department just ignored them.
    This is what America has come to.

  • 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 281.

    I blame it all on the Pink Panther personally.

  • rate this

    Comment number 280.

    People keep saying that spying has always gone on.
    Maybe it has, particularly when the Iron Curtain existed.
    Point is, not the fact of it's existence but the extent - hence the references to Stasi and Big Brother.
    As others point out privacy and democracy are not mutually exclusive. The excesses of the NSA and GCHQ need to be curbed for the good of everyone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 279.

    I've said it once and I will say it again. Thank you, Edward.

    I wish there were more as brave as you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 278.

    USA = United Spying Agency

  • rate this

    Comment number 277.

    Just a bit late Obama. So much for your concepts of freedom. Like everything else from the other side of the pond, all hot air. Europeans have every right not to ever trust the US and as we are guilty be association the UK. I as a taxpayer object to my money being used by those goons in GCHQ to spy on the law abiding citizens of this country, charities and aid agencies and our allies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 276.

    NSA leaks: Obama hints at surveillance rethink

    Nudge nudge, wink wink!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 275.

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

    The last sentence needs to be re-written as:
    "When the government fears the people, there is anarchy."

    The two sentences simply fail to acknowledge that Life isn't that simple: they are a cheap, gutter-press headlines. What is needed is a balance between the two.

  • rate this

    Comment number 274.

    So, Great One, its Snowden who has caused "unneccesary damage" by warning the World, and exposing all of your completely illegal and disgraceful activities.

    And here we all were thinking it was your spying on the entire world, (including your supposed allies) that was doing the real damage.


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