White House calling for more review of gov't surveillance systems

The Obama administration has outlined four specific, but not "all-inclusive," steps designed to improve federal surveillance programs.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

Before taking off for his summer vacation, President Obama made remarks about government surveillance systems going forward.

The President asserted that he had already been calling for review of federal surveillance programs prior to the firestorm that has erupted over the last few months.

"Given the history of abuse by governments," the President described, he said that it is understandable to question these methods -- especially as "technology is reshaping every aspect of our lives."

However, he countered, "repeated leaks have initiated the debate in a very passionate, but not always fully informed way."

Thus, the White House presented the following four "specific," albeit not "all-inclusive" steps:

  • The Executive Branch will work with Congress to reshape the program within the Patriot Act that has many speculating the U.S. Government could "listen to phone calls without a warrant." President Obama reiterated that the program does not allow this.  But "given the scale of it," the President said he "understands the worry there," suggesting there could be greater oversight, transparency and constraints on this authority.
  • The Executive Branch will work with Congress to improve public confidence in Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC).
  • The President has directed the "intelligence community to make as much information about these programs public as possible."
  • The White House is forming a task force to review national surveillance technologies to determine how they impact foreign policy, ensure there is no abuse, etc. The task force is scheduled to provide an interim report in 60 days and a final report by the end of the year.

"America is not interested in spying on ordinary people," the President stressed, declaring the interest is to "protect our people and our allies."

Speaking from the East Room at the White House on Friday afternoon, other topics on the docket were more specifics about foreign policy fall outs following the NSA leak (notably with Russia), U.S. Embassy closures in the Middle East and Africa, and the rumored proposal to elevate current deputy treasury secretary Larry Summers to chair the Federal Reserve.

The President's comments come just over two months after the initial report about the National Security Agency's PRISM program.

To recall, it was revealed by reports from The Guardian and the Washington Post that the federal agency was mining data from at least nine technology industry giants -- among them Google, Apple, and Microsoft.

Those reports were based on leaked files from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

After weeks on the run from the federal government's reach, Snowden has been granted temporary asylum in Russia, which has only added to the growing tension between Washington and Moscow.

The companies listed as the data sources have issued public rebuttals denying any involvement in PRISM.

Yahoo has since taken things a step further, petitioning the FISC in Washington, D.C., to declassify documents from a specific classified case in 2008 that the technology company asserted will clear its name.

The Department of Justice has promised to declassify the decision first by September 12. That will be followed by the briefs and materials cited by the federal court, scheduled to be declassified by September 27.

Screenshot via CNN live feed

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