NSA surveillance revelations: Barack Obama announces reforms to bulk data collection and spying on heads of states

Long-awaited speech unveiled some restrictions to America's surveillance policy, but Obama remained largely unapologetic

Seven months after the first bombshell revelations of whistleblower Edward Snowden, President Barack Obama announced new curbs on electronic surveillance by the US intelligence agencies, including an end to the mass storage of phone data, and to eavesdropping on friendly foreign leaders.

In a long-awaited 45-minute speech, Mr Obama sought to strike an elusive balance between the right of privacy and the need to protect the country. He repeatedly defended the work of the National Security Agency and the FBI, stressing that the US could not prevent terrorist or cyber attacks without the ability to penetrate digital communications.

There had been no evidence of abuse and, he said, “we cannot unilaterally disarm” in a dangerous world where some of the countries that professed the loudest outrage at Mr Snowden’s disclosures were doing the very same thing themselves. Nor would the US apologise for the fact it might be better than others at electronic espionage.

But the President admitted that “in the rush to respond” after the September 2001 attacks, the risk of government over-reach “became more pronounced” as new authorities were set up without public debate, and technological advance outstripped the ability to police it. This created “an inevitable bias” to collect more information about the world, not less – and, Obama declared, changes were now needed.

Among the most important of them, he urged Congress to set up a panel of privacy advocates for the top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court that handles intelligence cases, and announced that spying against friendly foreign leaders – as most controversially the case with German Chancellor Angela Merkel – would stop. But he warned that if national security warranted, the US reserved the right to listen in to anyone, anywhere.

The biggest change however will be in the handling of bulk telephone “metadata” stored by the NSA, the programme that has most outraged civil liberties groups in the US. Henceforth this information will no longer be held directly by the government. But where it will be kept is unclear, given that the phone companies themselves are not keen to keep it. And in any case, experts pointed out, one way or another this data will continue to be collected.

Initial reaction to the speech was mixed. Mr Obama said his reforms should give Americans greater confidence their privacy was not being abused. But Rand Paul, the Republican senator who has been among the NSA’s fiercest critics, said that Mr Obama deserved “an A for effort, but only a C for content.”

One thing however was clear – that Mr Snowden, currently a fugitive in Russia, can expect no early clemency. In his sole mention of the former intelligence contractor, Mr Obama noted drily that he would not “dwell on Mr Snowden’s actions or motivations,” but warned that if intelligence officials could take it into their own hands to make public what they knew, “we will not be able to keep our people safe.”

Read more: Obama's NSA speech - the reaction on Twitter
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Manchester United's kit for the 2014/15 season
football
News
Nadine Gordimer died peacefully at home yesterday
peopleNobel laureate was a powerful anti-Apartheid voice
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Neil Young performs on stage at Hyde Park
musicAnd his Hyde Park set has rhyme and reason, writes Nick Hasted
News
Women have been desperate to possess dimples like Cheryl Cole's
people Cole has secretly married French boyfriend Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini after just three months.
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Extras
indybestThe tastiest creations for children’s parties this summer
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Comms / Digital Marketing Specialist

Not Specified: Recruitment Genius: An exciting and rewarding role exists for a...

Search Engine Optimisation/ SEO Executive

£25000 - £28000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Excellent opportun...

Electronics Design Engineer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: My client are l...

Programme Planner

£30000 - £45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based i...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor