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President Barack Obama laid out a four-step plan to help the American public understand the government’s surveillance programs, saying he, too, would be skeptical if he wasn’t on the inside.
“It’s understandable people would be concerned. I would be too if I wasn’t inside the government,” said Obama in a press conference today. “The question is: How do I make the American people more comfortable? If I tell [First Lady] Michelle [Obama] that I did the dishes — now, granted, in the White House I don’t do the dishes that much — and she’s a little skeptical, well, I’d like her to trust me, but maybe I need to bring her back and show her the dishes.”
His four-step plan looks as such:
- He will make reforms to section 215 of the Patriot Act, which permits for the collection of “metadata” — things like phone numbers and call times — from various business records.
- He will work to restore citizen confidence in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — or the FISA court that issues National Security Letters that often come with “gag orders” attached so companies cannot talk about various requests received through NSLs.
- He will work to make the United States’ intelligence agencies more transparent by declassifying more information. The NSA may create a website where it answers questions about the ways it operates. The president may also create a new position within the NSA for a civil liberties and privacy officer.
- He will also invite the private sector to review the processes in place and suggest new technologies that could help protect American civil liberties.
Conversations around privacy and the implications of government surveillance surfaced when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden released secret documents regarding these programs. Obama stressed in his press conference that he had already started the process of reviewing Section 215, as well as FISA section 702, through an executive order released before Snowden’s action. He expressed frustration that Snowden’s information is being trickled out over weeks, leading to what he believes is a misinformed public.
“What we’ve seen is information come out in dribs and in drabs,” he said. “Rather than have a trunk come out here and a leg come out here, a tail come out there, let’s just put the whole elephant out there.”
Furthermore, he reminded people that he did not cancel a recent summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin wholly because of Snowden’s asylum in the country. He did say that Putin needs “to take a pause, reassess where it is that Russia’s going.”
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