David Jackson, USA TODAY
President Obama and aides are looking at making more public disclosures about secret government surveillance programs.
Frustrated by what they call misimpressions of the counterterrorism efforts, Obama and his aides are considering declassification of some documents and more public comments about telephone and Internet surveillance programs.
Declassification of certain documents is one of the topics Friday afternoon as Obama meets with a newly constituted Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.
In coming weeks, Obama and high-ranking aides "will begin meeting with a range of stakeholders on the subject of protecting privacy in the digital era," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
Carney said Obama welcomes the debate over the balance of national security and privacy.
The meeting with the privacy board is closed to the media. It will be held in the White House Situation Room and, Carney noted, deals with "classified matters" surrounding the counterterrorism surveillance programs.
The Obama administration has come under criticism after disclosures about National Security Agency programs that harvest phone numbers and Internet activity.
In a series of public comments, Obama and aides have said the programs enable National Security Agency analysts to determine whether suspected terrorists or terrorist organizations are making contacts within the USA. They said the programs collect data on phone calls and e-mails - when, where and what phone numbers and e-mail addresses.
NSA officials cannot look at the contents of phone calls or Internet messages without specific court orders, Obama has said. The programs are subject to congressional and judicial oversight, the latter a reference to the secret court that oversees the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Administration officials have credited the programs with the disruption of more than 50 plots in more than 20 countries.
The American Civil Liberties Union and other civil libertarians say the rules designed to protect the calls and Internet activity of non-suspects - the "minimization rules" - are riddled with loopholes and allow the NSA to look at content without warrants in some cases.
After the leak of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) court documents to The Guardian newspaper, ACLU Staff Attorney Alex Abdi said they show "that the legal framework under which the NSA operates is far too feeble, that existing oversight mechanisms are ineffective and that the government's surveillance policies now present a serious and ongoing threat to our constitutional rights."
Seeking to counter this kind of criticism, Obama authorized Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to declassify some information to clarify the programs.
He asked counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco to work with the DNI and Department of Justice on declassification of opinions and findings of the secret court that oversees the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the so-called FISA court.
During a ceremony Friday to nominate former Justice Department official James Comey for FBI director, Obama said that "this work of striking a balance between security -- but also making sure we are maintaining fidelity to those values that we cherish -- is a constant mission."
One administration official, who isn't authorized to discuss the effort publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said disclosures would "better contextualize these programs" and "correct misrepresentations."
The aide said, "The president's direction is that as much information as possible be made public while being mindful of the need to protect sources and methods and national security."
Carney said Obama believes the debate over surveillance and privacy is an important one.
"He has made clear his views on the trade-offs involved in finding the balance between our need to protect our citizens, protect our country, and our need to retain our values and our privacy," Carney said. "But he believes that that's a discussion that we should engage in."