President Barack Obama held an hour-long press conference Friday, addressing reporters’ questions about a range of issues. But the main focus of the event was the ongoing controversy over the National Security Agency’s spying on American citizens.
The President announced a handful of modest steps he claims his Administration is taking to alleviate public concerns about the surveillance agency’s activities, including working with lawmakers to ensure better Congressional oversight and possible changes to the process the government uses to justify data collection.
“I’m also mindful of how these issues are viewed overseas because American leadership around the world depends upon the example of American democracy and American openness,” Obama said from the White House. “In other words, it’s not enough for me, as president, to have confidence in these programs. The American people need to have confidence in them, as well.”
Obama vowed that he intends to work on ways to tighten a provision of the Patriot Act – known as Section 215 – that allows the government to obtain business phone data records. The President also suggested that his Administration would organize a panel of outsiders comprised of former intelligence officials, civil liberty and privacy advocates to review surveillance programs and suggest changes.
Rejecting the idea that NSA leaker Edward Snowden is a patriot, the President said that his Administration had already called for a review of the Nation’s surveillance practices in May. But, the President said that “there’s no doubt that Mr. Snowden’s leaks triggered a much more rapid, and passionate, response than if I had simply appointed this review board.”
Obama went on to insist that the NSA programs “are operating in a way that prevents abuse,” even without the reforms he announced.
“The question is,” Obama said, “how do I make the American people more comfortable?”
The President continued with an analogy, “If I tell Michelle that I did the dishes–now, granted, in the White House I don’t do the dishes that much, but back in the day–and she’s a little skeptical. Well, I’d like her to trust me, but maybe I need to bring her back and show her the dishes and not just have to take my word for it.”
Obama said that if the American people “examined exactly what has taken place, how it has been used, what the safeguards were,” that there would be no concern.