President Obama orders review of NSA spying

Filed Under: Law & order, Privacy

Obama. Image courtesy of ShutterstockUS President Barack Obama has initiated a review to make sure that the National Security Agency (NSA) is doing what it should be doing, as opposed to doing whatever it can do with its continues-to-amaze data-vacuuming capabilities.

The President briefly touched on what he called an ongoing, complete review in an interview with White House correspondent and ABC News senior national correspondent Jim Avila for "America With Jorge Ramos" on Monday afternoon.

He said:

We're undergoing a complete review of how our intelligence operates outside of the country.

As it is, the laws that supposedly protect what the US does internally tend to sag when they get shipped over the border, he said:

There are some very strict laws governing what we do internally.

And that was the initial concern brought about by some of the [whistleblower Edward] Snowden disclosures. Internationally, there are less constraints on how our intelligence teams operate.

On Sunday, the NSA found itself fidgeting in a diplomacy blow-out after revelations about its having intercepted personal mobile phone calls of German chancellor Angela Merkel.

The agency was forced to deny that its director had ever told Obama about it.

(Take that for what you will: An unnamed, high-ranking NSA official alleged that the president, "not only did not stop the operation, but he also ordered it to continue", according to reporting from the German newspaper Der Spiegel.)

Avila had asked the President how it is that he didn't know about the NSA listening in on cell phones of world leaders that are also the country's allies and just who, exactly, should have told him.

Obama answered by calling himself the ultimate end user of intelligence:

The national security operations, generally, have one purpose and that is to make sure the American people are safe and that I'm making good decisions. I'm the final user of all the intelligence that they gather.

Just four months ago, at a rally at the Berlin Wall - to which Merkel had invited him - the President said that the US's intelligence efforts hadn't run amok.

"Our current programs are bound by the rules of law," the President said at the time.

But the Snowden leaks are giving the country pause over whether, actually, technology advances have, well, allowed intelligence efforts to run amok, the President said:

It's important for us to make sure that as technology develops and expands and the capacity for intelligence gathering becomes a lot greater, that we make sure we're doing things in the right way [in a way that's] reflective of our values.

Image of President Obama courtesy of Shutterstock.

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12 Responses to President Obama orders review of NSA spying

  1. Who cares about how we spy internationally. Were supposed to spy on our friends and enemies. Everyone else is doing it. It's spying on your own citizens that worries me. Patriot act, NDAA etc. Our govt is getting drunk with power and every year we hand more power and responsibilities to them. They need to down size in scope and relevancy.

    • Fred Sagen · 708 days ago

      Who cares??

      We, your allies, care.

      If America treats us as hostile nations we may respond as hostile nations.
      (Kick a dog and it WILL bite you.)

      Now do you understand why YOU should care?

      • Andy · 708 days ago

        Nicely said Fred

        • Spryte · 707 days ago


          And when the rest of the world abandons American/U.K made software, and internet services (Google, MSoft/Outlook/Live, Yahoo) and these companies go belly-up or move, then, there will caring.

        • randy · 706 days ago

          lol.. sure.. you go right a head and create your own internet infrastructure and apps.. I'm sure you're quite capable of that.

    • Ralph Fendlemyer · 708 days ago

      A former French government minister said of course everyone is spying on everyone else but they are just jealous of the Americans capability to do so on such a massive scale.
      The problem lies not just with the NSA. The problem is we are under 24/7 continuous surveillance everywhere we go. All our gadgets can be used to locate and track us. All our transactions. All our movements around a city in a car or bus. Everywhere. The East German Stasi were amateurs and we now live in the world of The Prisoner......

  2. Andy · 708 days ago

    well it seems as someone is beginning to take note, that the NSA have gone beyond normal activities. I just hope the president realises that allied countries have their own laws, that protect those countries and should they find information that would and could lead to a terrorist attack would be passed on tho the appropriate departments, as we would expect of them the same courtesy.

    So come on America play the game the allied way and stop spying on citizens that have no interest in causing mayhem and harm to anyone anywhere in the world.

    Respect is a two way street.....

  3. outsidethemarginals · 708 days ago

    He [Obama] said: "The national security operations, generally, have one purpose and that is to make sure the American people are safe and that I'm making good decisions.

    Of course pissing off your allies makes the American people safer, just as
    - droning the borders of Pakistan and leaving its inhabitants with a sense of grievance makes the American people safer.
    - allowing your Israeli friends to coop up Palestinians in a 21st century version of a 1940s Polish ghetto cut off from the normal requirements of a civilised life also makes the American people safer.

    Being British of course, I am guilty by over-close association. I despair.

    The first objective of a defence and security policy should surely be: make friends where possible and do not unnecessarily make enemies.

  4. Matt · 708 days ago

    Although he's clearly just blowing with the current winds, it's nice to see he's moving off of his previous "They're professionals and we should trust them" nonsense.

  5. Gavin · 708 days ago

    Thank you, "Outsidethemarginals" for an excellent summing up of so much that's wrong with the NSA/GCHQ/"5-eyes" nightmare.

    Now Obama is acknowledging that there are some problems (you think?) and that a "review" should happen (even though I highly doubt anything of substance will change because look who the reviewers are), will Snowden be given full amnesty and welcomed back to the US?

    Laws??? What about the American Constitution? How come US politicians are still mute on that? And where's the UK press (apart from the Guardian) in all of this? And why isn't the rest of the world A WHOLE LOT ANGRIER?

    This whole thing is just lies on top of spin on top of more lies on top of more spin. Alexander is still claiming that things are being misreported by the press and European data isn't being "collected" to anything like the scale that the leaked documents suggest. That's only true if you remember that the NSA's definition of "collected" doesn't mean To-take-a-copy-of-just-about-everything-and-save-it-to-your-own-systems-without-a-warrant but actually means To-analyze-the-data-that-has-already-been-held.

    So go right ahead, foul dragnet surveillance agencies of the world: copy and store as much metadata, personal information and content about our private affairs as you can. Just don't let us catch you "collecting" it!


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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.