Obama Said to Detail Steps to Assure Public on Spying
President Barack Obama, responding to increasing public unease over government surveillance programs, plans to announce today steps designed to build trust in the government’s handling of the anti-terrorism programs, an administration official said.
Obama will outline his plans at a news conference, scheduled for 3 p.m. Washington time at the White House, according to the official, who asked for anonymity to discuss the matter before the president speaks.
The steps follow revelations about National Security Agency programs by former computer security contractor Edward Snowden, who has been charged by federal officials with illegally leaking classified documents.
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 another administration official.
At issue is the government collection 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.
Obama’s announcement is the administration’s latest attempt to quell public and congressional criticism on intelligence gathering that snares records of U.S. citizens. Last month, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released previously classified documents about the surveillance and court orders.
Lawmakers from both parties have raised concerns about the legal rationale for the data collection. They have zeroed in on the program that gathers millions of phone records from U.S. citizens into government computers, authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court under the Patriot Act. The court, which operates in secret, has come under scrutiny for being too willing to approve intelligence-agency requests.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, has proposed legislation to establish the position at the secretive court in Washington that issues orders and rulings related to classified national intelligence information.
“What we have learned over the course of American history is that the Constitution needs a zealous advocate,” Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said yesterday during remarks at Harvard Law School. “My legislation would provide one.”
Blumenthal is one of several lawmakers who have proposed, or are in the process of drafting, legislation to place restrictions or new public disclosure requirements on the classified U.S. intelligence apparatus that has become central to the federal government’s national security programs.
A House proposal to take away funding for the NSA programs -- which was vigorously opposed by the Obama administration -- came seven votes short of passing July 24.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said last month she would consider including curbs on the phone-data program in the annual intelligence authorization bill.
Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican who sponsored the Patriot Act in 2001, has proposed limiting phone data collection to targets of federal terrorism probes and to put restrictions on the surveillance court.
Public concern has been rising that the government’s electronic spying programs intrude on personal privacy, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released July 23.
The survey found 57 percent support unrestricted government access to telephone and Internet data to investigate potential terrorism, the lowest support since the Sept. 11 attacks, and 39 percent oppose it. Three years ago, support of unrestricted monitoring was 68 percent, according to the poll.
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