U.S. President Barack Obama unveiled reforms Friday in the vast surveillance being conducted by the country’s clandestine National Security Agency.
The speech follows months of disclosures about NSA spying by former national security contractor Snowden. The NSA says he stole 1.7 million documents before fleeing to asylum in Russia.
Obama announced a comprehensive of surveillance procedures in August.
The president stressed his responsibility as commander-in-chief to safeguard the security of Americans, but recognized escalating public concerns about how the government goes about using signals intelligence.
Obama has met with technology industry CEOs, civil liberties experts and government officials and consulted with Congress. Reforms would require congressional action.
There have been court rulings with judges issuing opposing statements on NSA activities, including the collection of phone records. Experts predict the issue is certain to reach the Supreme Court.
A member of the review panel, Cass Sunstein, told Congress that the group aimed to ensure that the U.S. intelligence community can continue to do what it needs to do to protect national security.
“Not one of the 46 recommendations in our report, in our view, compromise or jeopardize that ability in any way,” Sunstein said.
Debate is likely to continue over the extent to which NSA surveillance methods have actually prevented terrorist attacks. The presidential panel said it “was not essential to preventing attacks,” a finding supported by a separate study by the Washington-based New America Foundation.
Former CIA deputy director Mike Morell said the bulk data program, known as Section 215 in U.S. law, was not as useful as one aimed at foreigners, but still had value.
“It is absolutely true that the 215 program has not played a significant role in disrupting any attacks to this point. That is a different statement than saying the program is not important,” said Morell.
Morell said “it turned out be wrong” that existing oversight over the bulk phone data program would succeed in maintaining the public trust.
US opinion polls
Polls in recent months have shown a majority of Americans believe existing laws are inadequate when it comes to oversight of NSA methods.
“The latest polling that I have seen indicates that the public continues to lose confidence, especially for those who fear or are concerned about their privacy,” said intelligence historian Aid.
Globally, Obama’s remarks will be carefully assessed because of the controversy over NSA eavesdropping — revealed by Snowden leaks — on phone calls of key leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Among 46 recommendations, the review panel called for high-level approval of sensitive intelligence requirements, including identifying “uses and limits” of surveillance of foreign leaders.
VOA White House correspondent Dan Robinson and Washington reporter Ken Bredemeier and Pete Cobus contributed to this report.