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
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Sport
The giant banner displayed by Legia Warsaw supporters last night
football Polish side was ejected from Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
news
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
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
Latest stories from i100
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

Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

£50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Junior Analyst - Graduate - 6 Month fixed term contract

£17000 - £20000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

SAS Business Analyst - Credit Risk - Retail Banking

£450 - £500 per day: Orgtel: SAS Business Analyst, London, Banking, Credit Ris...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone