President Barack Obama today (Aug. 9) announced four major reform initiatives designed to restore trust in the U.S. government and the intelligence community in the wake of the revelations leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
"Given the history of abuse by governments, it's right to ask questions about surveillance," Obama said during a White House press conference.
"It's not enough for me as president to have confidence in these programs," Obama said, adding that the American people needed to have confidence as well.
Obama's proposed changes were:
— "Appropriate reforms" to Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act. The section lets government agencies seize business records, such as phone-company logs, without a warrant.
"We can put in greater oversight, greater transparency" with regard to Section 215, Obama said.
— Creation of an adversarial body to argue against government requests before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), which rules case-by-case on the legality of the NSA's surveillance of U.S. persons.
The FISC has been criticized because while it hears the arguments of intelligence and law-enforcement personnel asking for more surveillance, it does not hear anyone countering those arguments.
We need "greater assurance that the court is looking at both sides," Obama said. "We need to take steps to make sure that the other side is heard."
— Declassification of more documents concerning surveillance, including the "legal rationale" for the government's interpretation of Section 215. Obama said the NSA would be creating both a staff privacy officer and a transparency website.
"We can and must be more transparent," Obama said.
— The formation of an "outside expert group to review intelligence technologies" and make suggestions on how to better gather the information the intelligence community needs.
Obama said the expert group would issue an interim report within 60 days of its formation, and a final report by the end of the year.
"America is not interested in spying on ordinary people," Obama said. "We have significant capabilities. We show restraint many governments don't even think to show or consider."
"The men and women of the intelligence community work every single day because they love this country and believe in our values," the president added. "All of these steps are designed to make sure our interests and our values" are upheld.