President Barack Obama said he will propose curbs on the National Security Agency to guard against unwarranted snooping in Americans’ private affairs.
The president is scheduled to get a report next week from a five-member panel of lawyers and former security officials that is reviewing the spy agency’s sweeping collection of communications data worldwide. It was created after the leaks of secret government documents from former government security contractor Edward Snowden.
“I’ll be proposing some self-restraint on the NSA and to initiate some reforms to give people more confidence,” Obama said today in a recorded interview on MSNBC’s “Hardball With Chris Matthews” program. Americans, he said, “rightly are sensitive to needs to preserve their privacy and to maintain Internet freedom, and so am I.”
Obama’s action on recommendations from the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications may have consequences for Google Inc., Microsoft Corp., Facebook Inc. and Apple Inc. Technology companies are facing the loss of billions of dollars in overseas business, stricter regulations and erosion of consumer trust as a result of revelations that the NSA gained access to private networks to conduct surveillance.
Obama didn’t specify what kinds of limits he has in mind. He defended the agency’s data collection in general, citing the threats to U.S. banks, increasing online crime and terrorism.
“If we’re going to do a good job of preventing a terrorist attack on this country, a weapon of mass destruction getting onto the New York subway system, etcetera, we do want to keep eyes on some bad actors,” he said in the interview before an audience of mostly students at American University in Washington and broadcast at 7 p.m. Washington time.
The president said the disclosures from material leaked by Snowden over several months “have identified some areas of legitimate concern,” though some of the reporting on the material has been “highly sensationalized.”
Obama said the surveillance disclosures, along with the botched rollout of the government’s health-care website and allegations of Internal Revenue Service scrutiny of tea party groups, have contributed to an erosion of the public’s trust in government.
“The cynicism and the skepticism is deep,” he said. Little attention is given when the government does something well, Obama said. “If we do something that is perceived, at least initially, as a screw-up, it’ll be on the nightly news for a week.”
Obama declined to handicap the contenders for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016. Among the potential candidates are his vice president, Joe Biden, and his former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.
Asked to compare their presidential qualifications, Obama replied “not a chance.”
“Here’s what I’ll say: Both Hillary and Joe would make outstanding presidents and possess the qualities need to be outstanding presidents,” Obama said.
Reflecting on five years as president, Obama said: “It makes you humbler, as opposed to cockier, about what you as an individual can do.”
“It’s hard, it can be frustrating, you’ve got to have a thick skin.”
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