Obama: Making Americans Trust Surveillance Is Sort of Like Washing Dishes
Acting like he was fostering a robust debate on surveillance before NSA contractor Edward Snowden's leaks about PRISM, President Obama announced a four-point plan to make Americans "more comfortable" with the idea of data collection.
In fact, he compared this new trust-building initiative to dishwashing.
"If I tell Michelle that I did the dishes -- now, granted, in the White House I don't do the dishes that much," Obama said at a press conference Friday afternoon in an otherwise deserted Washington. "But back in the day -- 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. And not just have her take my word for it."
"And so, you know, the program is -- I am comfortable that the program currently is not being abused," he continued.
"I am comfortable that if the American people examined exactly what was taking place, how it was being used, what the safeguards were, that they would say, you know what, these folks are following the law and doing what they say they're doing."
Obama opened the hourlong press conference by lamenting that "rather than an orderly and lawful process to debate these issues and come up with appropriate reforms, repeated leaks of classified information have initiated the debate in a very passionate, but not always fully informed way."
"Now, keep in mind that as a senator I expressed a healthy skepticism about these programs," he said. "And as president, I've taken steps to make sure that they have strong oversight by all three branches of government and clear safeguards to prevent abuse and protect the rights of the American people."
The president said he'd asked the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board "to review where our counterterrorism efforts and our values come into tension," and "directed my national security team to be more transparent and to pursue reforms of our laws and practices."
He announced "four specific streps, not all-inclusive" to "move the debate forward."
Those include working with Congress to weigh reforms to Section 215 of the Patriot Act and working with Congress "to improve the public's confidence in the oversight conducted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court."
"So specifically we can take steps to make sure civil liberties, concerns, have an independent voice, in appropriate cases, by ensuring the government's position is challenged by an adversary," he said.
The third step includes more declassifications, including "the legal rationale for the government's collection activities under Section 215" and the NSA's establishment of a full-time "civil liberties and privacy officer."
"The intelligence community is creating a website that will serve as a hub for further transparency," Obama declared. "This will give Americans and the world 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."