Though he remained steadfast in his view that Edward Snowden is "not a patriot," President Obama obscurely gave due credit to the National Security Agency whistleblower during a press conference Friday when he announced a series of transparency reforms long called for by Snowden and critics of the United States' sweeping surveillance program.
"In light of the changed environment where a whole set of questions have been raised [...] it makes for us to go ahead, lay out what exactly we’re doing, have a discussion with Congress, have a discussion with industry, have a discussion with the civil libertarians and see, can we do this better?" said the president during an open press conference Friday afternoon.
Though claiming to have previously initiated steps to ensure that the NSA surveillance programs "have strong oversight" and "clear safeguards to prevent abuse," the president acknowledged, "There's no doubt that Mr. Snowden's leaks triggered a much more rapid, passionate response than what would have been the case if I had just appointed this review board [...] and sat down with Congress."
Ticking off the list of proposed transparency reforms, Obama announced a series of new measures:
- Discussing with Congress "appropriate" reforms to section 215 of the Patriot Act (under which phone records are collected in bulk) which will include "greater oversight, greater transparency and constraints on the use of this authority."
- Discussing with Congress reforms to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). A measure that would give "civil liberties concerns" more ability to challenge government rulings.
- The NSA appointment of a privacy and civil liberties officer.
- The creation of an independent advisory group made up of "outside experts" who will be allowed to review the government's surveillance activities and publish a public report within two months (60 days), and a final report by the end of the year.
- A new website launched by the greater intelligence community meant to serve as a "hub for further transparency," to provide interested parties with the "ability to learn more about what our intelligence community does and what it doesn’t do, how it carries out its mission and why it does so."
It remains to be seen how effective or impartial any of these proposed oversights will prove to be, they echo in some measure earlier reforms proposed by Snowden following his leak of NSA materials. As he stated during an earlier live chat with Guardian readers:
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This disclosure provides Obama an opportunity to appeal for a return to sanity, constitutional policy, and the rule of law rather than men. [...] I would advise he personally call for a special committee to review these interception programs, repudiate the dangerous "State Secrets" privilege, and, upon preparing to leave office, begin a tradition for all Presidents forthwith to demonstrate their respect for the law by appointing a special investigator to review the policies of their years in office for any wrongdoing.
"There can be no faith in government if our highest offices are excused from scrutiny—they should be setting the example of transparency," he added.
Despite being spurred to action by Snowden's leaks and claims of personally enhancing whistleblower protection laws, Obama maintained that Snowden was not to be honored for his disclosures.
"No, I don't think he's a patriot," Obama said of Edward Snowden in response to a question during the press conference.