Obama Sets Plans to Improve Privacy in NSA Surveillance

3:26 PM, Aug 9, 2013   |    comments
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US President Barack Obama holds a press conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on August 9, 2013. Obama said regional Al-Qaeda networks still pose threat (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Aamer Madhani and David Jackson, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON--President Obama announced a series of moves on Friday to improve privacy protections within National Security Agency surveillance programs, and better explain to the public how they operate.

Obama believes the new measures will help increase transparency and restore public trust in government surveillance programs.

Obama announced his plans at the start of his news conference this afternoon.

3:55 p.m. NPR's Scott Horsley asks about the immigration bill, which appears to have a fading chance of becoming law.

Obama says he believes if the Senate bill makes it to the floor of the House it would pass. "The problem is internal caucus politics and that's not what the American people want us worrying about," Obama said.

3:43 p.m. Ed Henry from Fox News asks about implementation of the president's signature health care law and Benghazi

Obama defends his decision to delay the employer mandate until 2015."I just didn't simply decide to delay this on my own," Obama said, adding that he did this with in consultation with businesses across the country.

He adds that there will be glitches along the way with implementation as there was with other government programs, such as Social Security and Medicare.

Obama also scoffs at Republicans for making "it their holy grail" to stop his health care law. "That's hard to understand as an agenda that's going to strengthen our middle class," he said.

Obama also criticized Republicans who are calling for a government shutdown unless Obama agrees to a budget that de-funds health care

"The idea that you would shut down the government unless you prevent 30 million Americans from getting health care is a bad idea," Obama says.

On Benghazi, Obama says he is determined to find those responsible for the September 2012 attack on the U.S. facility in Libya that left four Americans dead. Obama notes it's true that 11 months have passed since the attack, but points out it also took time to capture Osama bin Laden.

3:39 p.m. Obama is asked by ABC's Jonathan Karl about his previous comments that Al Qaeda is on its heels, considering his administration's decision to temporarily close many U.S. embassies in the Muslim world.

"Core Al Qaeda is on its heel, but what I also said was that AL Qaeda and other extremists have metastasized into regional groups that are dangerous," Obama said.

Karl also asked Obama about series of drone strikes in Yemen in recent days, but the president won't bite.

"I will not a discussion about operational issues," Obama says

3:32 p.m. Obama congratulates the Wall Street Journal's Carol Lee, who just gave birth to a little boy. Lee thanks him but gets right to business with more questions about the NSA's surveillance program.

The president reiterates that people outside of the intelligence community understandably alarmed by some of the headlines since Snowden's revelations.

"I would be too if I was outside the government," Obama says. He adds, "I don't have an interest and the people in the NSA don't have interest in doing anything other than making sure we can prevent a terrorist attack."

He also says, "I am comfortable that the programs are not being abused."

3:27 p.m. Obama confirms Lawrence Summers and Janet Yellin are among those under consideration to be the next Federal Reserve chairman. They are both "outstanding candidates."

3:19 p.m. NBC's Chuck Todd asks Obama multiple questions about NSA leaker Edward Snowden and Obama's relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

On Snowden, "No I don't see Mr. Snowden as a patriot." The fact is that Snowden's been charged with three felonies, Obama says.

He adds there were other avenues available for someone "whose conscience felt stirred." Obama complains that Snowden's leaks have come out in dribs and drabs and have unfairly set the impression that the U.S. government is spying on its citizens.

But Obama said Americans do have real questions about the surveillance programs.

"There is no doubt that Mr. Snowden';s leaks triggered a much more rapid and passionate response,"

On his relationship with Putin, Obama says its actually pretty good on a personal level

3:15 p.m. The first questions from Julie Pace of the Associated Press. She asks a series of questions related to the tensions between the U.S. and Russia. Obama says we have seen more "anti-American rhetoric" since Putin has come into power. The president goes on to say that he has encouraged Putin to "look forward" and "not backward."

On his decision to cancel a scheduled meeting next month with Putin in Moscow, he thought it was an appropriate time to "take a pause."

Obama added that he did not think it's appropriate to cancel U.S. participation in the upcoming Winter Olympics that Russia will host.

3:06 p.m. Obama begins his news conference, and as expected, he starts by talking about his plans for shedding more light on government surveillance. "It is not enough for me to have confidence in these programs," Obama says.

Here are some of the broad details of the plan:

--He'll start new talks with Congress to work on reforms of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which governs NSA collections.

- He'll Appoint a civil liberties and privacy advocate to argue cases and challenge the government's position before the court that oversees the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

--He says wants to strengthen transparency by de-classifying more NSA and FISA court documents

- The president says he wants to appoint a new high-level group of outside experts to review the nation's surveillance laws; the advisory group will release an interim report within 60 days, and a full report by the end of the year.

3:00 p.m. President Obama hasn't yet started his news conference but David Jackson has confirmed the outlines of the reforms Obama will announce.

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