Obama seeks to reform domestic spying programmes

Washington, Aug 10 (IANS) Amidst a public uproar over controversial US domestic surveillance programmes, President Barack Obama outlined four steps to prevent abuse of US intelligence gathering measures that he insisted had helped keep America safe.

"Given the history of abuse by governments, it's right to ask questions about surveillance, particularly as technology is reshaping every aspect of our lives," Obama said during a news conference in the East Room of the White House.

"It's not enough for me as president to have confidence in these programmes," Obama added. "The American people need to have confidence as well."

The National Security Agency's domestic surveillance programmes, including one that monitors the metadata of domestic phone calls, have come under the scanner following their disclosure by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Four steps aimed at reassuring the public outlined by Obama included working with Congress to reform Section 215 of the Bush-era Patriot Act, which governs the programme that collects telephone records.

Obama has also directed justice officials to declassify the legal rationale for the government's phone-data collection, and said NSA would put in place a "civil liberties and privacy officer".

He has also proposed appointing a lawyer to argue against the government at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which is accused of essentially rubber-stamping official requests to scour electronic records.

Obama also announced the formation of a group of external experts to review all US government intelligence and communications technologies.

In response to a question about Snowden, who has been granted temporary asylum in Russia, Obama said: "No, I don't think Mr Snowden was a patriot."

If Snowden, who has been charged with three felony counts related to the leaks, including violations of the US Espionage Act believes his actions were right, "he can appear before a court with a lawyer and make his case," Obama said.

Slamming the release of the information that has "come out in dribs and drabs," he said a general impression has taken hold "that we are somehow out there willy-nilly sucking information from everybody."

Obama said that his decision to not go to Moscow next month for a summit was not solely related to Russia's decision to grant asylum to Snowden.

The US, he said must "take a pause" and "calibrate the relationship" with Russia to assess where things stand, while "recognizing there are going to be some differences and we are not always going to agree."

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

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