US President Barack Obama Friday outlined plans
to provide more transparency in US surveillance programmes and
restore trust in the wake of revelations about the widespread
collection of telephone and internet records.
Obama called for revisions to the part of the Patriot Act that authorized the collection of US telephone records and for improved oversight of the court that authorizes surveillance. He also said surveillance programmes must be more transparent and ordered an outside review of communication and intelligence capabilities.
"It's not enough for me as president to have confidence in these programmes, the American people have to have confidence in them as well," he said at a White House press conference.
However, Obama defended the programmes themselves, which he said "offered valuable intelligence that helps us protect the American people, and they're worth preserving."
He claimed a series of safe-guards had prevented abuse that may have trampled on civil liberties. "I am comfortable that the programme currently is not being abused," he said.
The move comes amid growing outrage by US lawmakers and allies over the mass collection of US phone records and international email traffic made public by fugitive former intelligence worker Edward Snowden.
"I'm also mindful of how these issues are viewed overseas because American leadership around the world depends upon the example of American democracy and American openness, because what makes us different from other countries is not simply our ability to secure our nation; it's the way we do it, with open debate and democratic process," he said.
He denounced Snowden and said the leaks have created a debate "in a very passionate but not always very informed way."
He said Snowden was not a "patriot" and noted he had been charged with three felonies.
"If in fact he believes that what he did was right, then, like every American citizen, he can come here, appear before the court with a lawyer and make his case," he said.
Snowden was granted temporary asylum by Russia, worsening already tense relations between Moscow and Washington and prompting Obama to cancel a planned bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin next month. Obama described the spat over Snowden as just one of many issues that had prompted the US to reassess its dealing with Russia.
Defence and foreign ministers from the countries however met in Washington Friday.
Meanwhile, the encrypted email service thought to have been used by Snowden has been shut down, its founder said Friday.
The owner of the Texas-based Lavabit service, Ladar Levison, said in a letter published on the internet that he took the decision to suspend operations rather than "become complicit in crimes against the American people."
Levison gave few other details, though reports have suggested he has been involved in legal moves to prevent US officials from accessing details of customers.
A second encrypted e-mail service, Silent Mail, operated by Silent Circle was also closed down by its operator Friday. Although there was no apparent link to the Snowden case, the company said the closure would prevent the government from snooping into its services.
Silent Circle said its decision was motivated out of fear that government subpoenas could force it to divulge its customers' communications.
"We see the writing the wall, and we have decided that it is best for us to shut down Silent Mail now," it said on its blog. "We have not received subpoenas, warrants, security letters, or anything else by any government, and this is why we are acting now."
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