Obama Says Current Safeguards Against Surveillance Programs May Be Insufficient

President Barack Obama said Wednesday that, as technology continues to proliferate, the United States may have to update safeguards against its surveillance programs.

But Obama, speaking at a news conference in Stockholm with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, once again asserted that despite some cases of overreach there are already checks and balances on the books “designed to avoid a surveillance state.” 

“What I can say with confidence is that when it comes to our domestic operation, the concerns that people have back home in the United States of America, that we do not surveil the American people or persons within the United States, that there are a lot of checks and balances in place designed to avoid a surveillance state,” Obama said. “There have been times where the procedures, because these are human endeavors, have not worked the way they should and we had to tighten them up. And I think there are legitimate questions that have been raised about the fact that as technology advances and capabilities grow, it may be that the laws that are currently in place are not sufficient to guard against the dangers of us being able to track so much.”

The president also gave assurances to European allies that while the U.S. has “enormous” intelligence capabilities, the American government is not “going around snooping at people’s emails or listening to their phone calls.”

“Now when it comes to intelligence gathering internationally, our focus is on counterterrorism, weapons of mass destruction, cybersecurity — you know, core national security interests of the United States,” Obama said. “But what is true is the United States has enormous capabilities when it comes to intelligence.”

“One way to think about it is in the same way that our military capabilities are significantly greater than many other countries, the same is true for our intelligence capabilities so even though we may have the same goals our means are significantly greater,” he continued. “And I can give assurances to the publics in europe and around the world that we’re not going around snooping at people’s emails or listening to their phone calls.  What we try to do is to target very specifically areas of concern.” 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Kludt is a reporter for Talking Points Memo based in New York City, covering media and national affairs. Originally from South Dakota, Tom joined TPM as an intern in late-2011 and became a staff member during the 2012 election. He can be reached at tom@talkingpointsmemo.com.
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