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Obama promises to boost oversight of NSA surveillance operations

President Obama says he had called for a 'thorough review' of NSA surveillance even before Edward Snowden's actions, but that the leaks 'triggered a much more rapid and passionate response.' 

By Staff writer / August 9, 2013

President Obama answers questions during his news conference in the East Room of the White House on Friday. The president said he'll work with Congress to change the oversight of some of the National Security Agency's controversial surveillance programs and name a new panel of outside experts to review technologies.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

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WASHINGTON

In a move tinged with irony, President Obama announced a series of measures Friday aimed at boosting oversight and transparency in America’s national security surveillance apparatus.

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The president said he had called for a review of surveillance operations before Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, had leaked aspects of the programs to news media. And thus, he suggested, his new measures did not provide justification for Mr. Snowden’s actions.

“No, I don’t think Mr. Snowden was a patriot,” Mr. Obama said in a press conference in the ornate East Room of the White House, as he prepared to leave for summer vacation.

But Snowden did have an impact, he acknowledged. His leaks “triggered a much more rapid and passionate response” than would have been the case had he not leaked the information, Obama said.

“I actually think we would have gotten to the same place and we would have done so without putting at risk our national security and some very vital ways that we are able to get intelligence that we need to secure the country,” the president said.

Obama announced four new steps:

• Reforms to Section 215 of the Patriot Act that would enhance oversight, transparency, and constraints on the program, which collects telephone records but not the content of calls.

• Changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) – the federal court that requires judicial review of certain intelligence activities – such that the government’s position is challenged by an adversary. The goal is to make sure that concerns over civil liberties are given voice.

• Greater transparency of the government’s data collection activities under Section 215 by making public their legal rationale.

• Creation of a website by the intelligence community that informs the public about what it does and does not do – and why.

“It's not enough for me, as president, to have confidence in these programs,” Obama said. “The American people need to have confidence in them, as well.”

The head of the American Civil Liberties Union welcomed Obama’s proposed reforms, but called them “not nearly sufficient.” Anthony Romero called on the president and Congress to reform all the government’s surveillance programs, not just the one mentioned Friday.

Obama stiffened on the subject of Snowden, who faces felony charges of espionage and theft over his leaks and recently received temporary asylum in Russia.

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