Seeking to shore up foundering support for government snooping, President Obama said Friday he is willing to change the Patriot Act and to make modifications to the secret court that oversees programs such as the National Security Agency’s phone-records collection program.
Speaking just two weeks after the House almost voted to shut down the NSA’s phone-records snooping, Mr. Obama offered few specifics but signaled he’s aware he will have to change the programs if he is to preserve them.
“It’s not enough for me as president to have confidence in these programs. The American people need to have confidence in them as well,” he said.
But even as Mr. Obama was saying he’s open to changes, the Justice Department released a report arguing that the NSA program already complies with U.S. law — raising the question of how far Mr. Obama is willing to go in making changes.
Mr. Obama refused to call Edward Snowden, the former government contractor who leaked details about the program, a “patriot,” saying instead that Mr. Snowden had actually set back the debate over privacy.
“I actually think we would have gotten to the same place, and we would have done so without putting at risk our national security,” the president said, sounding defensive as he argued that he had already asked Congress to review the programs at stake.
In one concrete suggestion he made Friday, Mr. Obama said he would try to create an adversarial process within the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the secret federal panel that oversees snooping and that has approved the NSA’s collection of Americans’ phone-call records.
Members of Congress who have pushed for changes to the programs said Mr. Obama’s comments were a beginning, but the president will have to go further than he did.
“This is an important first step — but I will keep fighting to ensure it’s not the Administration’s last in this direction,” said Sen. Mark Udall, Colorado Democrat and member of the intelligence committee. “The administration must do a better job balancing our national security with our constitutional privacy rights.”