President Barack Obama said he’ll seek changes to the Patriot Act and appoint a panel of outside experts to assess ways to give U.S. citizens uneasy over government surveillance programs confidence that their civil liberties are protected.
Obama opened a White House news conference by outlining steps his administration will take in the wake of revelations that the National Security Agency is collecting data about telephone calls in the U.S. and monitoring cross-border Internet traffic.
“It’s not enough for me as president, to have confidence in these programs,” Obama said in the East Room of the White House. “The American people need to have confidence in them as well.”
The White House will ask Congress to make changes to a section of the Patriot Act authorizing the collection of telephone records to increase oversight and transparency of government surveillance. Obama also will propose creating a civil-liberties advocate to act as an adversary at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
As part of Obama’s effort to reassure the public, the Justice Department and the NSA will release documents detailing the legal rationale for surveillance and describing controls and accountability in the programs.
“We can and must be more transparent,” Obama said.
The steps follow revelations about two NSA programs by former computer security contractor Edward Snowden, who has been charged by federal officials with illegally leaking classified documents. Snowden, 30, is in Russia, which has granted the former Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp. (BAH) employee temporary asylum.
Obama and other White House officials have met this week with technology and communications company executives, industry representatives and privacy advocates as part of what the administration calls a dialogue on privacy and national security. The president met yesterday with a group that included Apple Inc. (AAPL) Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook and AT&T Inc. CEO Randall Stephenson as part of that process, according to an administration official, who asked not to be identified because the meeting wasn’t public.
At issue is the government collection information of millions of phone records from American citizens and monitoring of cross-border Internet traffic. Government officials say the surveillance is authorized by a secret court under the Patriot Act, passed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and is necessary to defend against terrorism.
The government last week cited intercepted communications among terrorist groups in announcing that U.S. diplomatic posts in some predominantly Muslim countries would be temporarily shut down because of the threat of attack.