Obama open to making changes to surveillance, lawmakers say

WASHINGTON Thu Aug 1, 2013 9:07pm EDT

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks as he hosts a meeting with his Yemeni counterpart Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi (not pictured) in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, August 1, 2013. REUTERS/Larry Downing

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks as he hosts a meeting with his Yemeni counterpart Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi (not pictured) in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, August 1, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Thursday told lawmakers he is open to changing controversial surveillance programs in order to restore public confidence and provide assurance the government is not violating citizens' privacy, participants at the meeting said.

"We understand the American people really do need to know what's going on now and what's going on in the past and get the right kind of assurances that their privacy has not been breached," said Senator Saxby Chambliss, who attended the meeting.

"We've got to figure out ways to make the program more transparent," he said.

Since former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed widespread government collection of phone and Internet records, a debate has erupted over how far the government should be allowed to go in monitoring its citizens' communications to protect the country from attacks.

Opposition to government surveillance has created an unlikely alliance of libertarian Republicans and some Democrats in Congress. The House of Representatives last week narrowly defeated an amendment to a spending bill that would have limited the NSA's scope to collect electronic information.

Obama met at the White House with Chambliss and other lawmakers who sit on the intelligence and judiciary committees. These included Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, who has been a skeptic of the NSA data collection program, and Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee on which Chambliss is the top Republican.

Also present were Representative Mike Rogers, who chairs the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, and Representative Dutch Ruppersberger, the top Democrat on the panel.

The White House said the president had called the meeting to discuss the surveillance program and "to hear from some of the programs' most prominent critics and defenders."

The intelligence committee leaders said in a joint statement they intend to work through August on proposals to increase transparency and protect privacy in counterterrorism programs.

At the White House, the discussion focused on the need to amend, but not necessarily abolish, the surveillance program, and to explain its merits to those who worry it is an invasion of privacy, Chambliss told reporters.

"We don't know what type of changes we're going to make," he said. "But the president was very amenable for providing the right kind of leadership to ensure that we get together and that we do the right thing."

The chairman of the House Judiciary panel, Republican Bob Goodlatte, who was also at the meeting, said he plans to hold hearings to ensure that the surveillance does not infringe on civil liberties.

"I stressed to the president that Congress must ensure that the laws we have enacted are executed in a manner that is consistent with congressional intent and that protects both our national security and our civil liberties," he said in a statement.

A small group of senators unveiled two bills before the White House meeting on Thursday seeking to alter the surveillance programs.

One measure would create a new "special advocate" position who could argue in a court that operates in secret to make decisions on government surveillance requests, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

The other would change the way judges are appointed to the FISA courts to ensure that the court represents a broad spectrum of political views.

(Reporting by Mark Felsenthal and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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Comments (20)
Big2Tex wrote:
Obama is a liar and cannot be trusted. He loves the surveillance programs and will expand them every chance he gets. The only remedy is to completely eliminate the NSA. There is no reason for it except tyranny and oppression. It should go.

Aug 01, 2013 9:29pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
TheNewWorld wrote:
“Opposition to government surveillance has created an unlikely alliance of libertarian Republicans and some Democrats in Congress.”

I take offense of the new term libertarian Republicans. I find it very hard for anyone to be both. Republicans and Libertarians agree very little. I guess we have to blame the two party system and the GOP’s and DNC’s control of the election process for not allowing any other parties representation in our government.

As far as the subject goes, I wont be able to believe any of the transparency. We assure you that no one is looking at your violating you are privacy, we are collecting all of your communications for your security…

Aug 01, 2013 9:34pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
SKYDRIFTER wrote:
Interesting weasel-wording, again.

So, America “might” finally get to see the promised ‘transparency?’

The “transparency” isn’t the issue; being spied-upon, in the first place, is the issue! Reverse that!

Secondly is the issue of punishing those who knowingly broke the law – long ago admitted.

In third place should be Obama’s resignation or impeachment. His stand-off/Teflon/dissociative so-called “leadership” has run its course, domestically and internationally!

He should at least hand over his politically insulating “cut-outs,” such as Eric Holder, et al.

(Yeah, yeah! Fat chance; and all that.)

Aug 01, 2013 9:50pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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