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Obama outlines changes to US spying

President bans spying on allied leaders - but stops short of outlawing the collection of private citizens' phone data.

Last updated: 18 Jan 2014 05:49
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President Barack Obama has said he has banned US eavesdropping on the leaders of allied countries but stopped short of saying spies would stop collecting data on the bulk collection of American citizens' phone data. 

Obama annouced a series of reforms on Friday, which were triggered by Edward Snowden's revelations about the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013.

In a speech, Obama took steps to reassure Americans and foreigners that the United States would take privacy concerns into account in the future.

Former US spy contractor Snowden made damaging revelations about the sweeping monitoring activities of the NSA, sparking national and international concerns over personal privacy.

"The reforms I'm proposing today should give the American people greater confidence that their rights are being protected, even as our intelligence and law enforcement agencies maintain the tools they need to keep us safe," he said.

Eavesdropping 

Obama promised that the US would not eavesdrop on the heads of state or government of close friends and
allies to the US, which a senior administration official said would apply to dozens of leaders. 

New NSA rules have no major impact on US spying, analyst says

The step was designed to smooth frayed relations between, for example, the US and Germany after reports surfaced last year that the NSA had monitored the mobile phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff postponed a state visit to Washington to protest against US surveillance tactics. 

"The leaders of our close friends and allies deserve to know that if I want to learn what they think about an issue, I will pick up the phone and call them, rather than turning to surveillance," Obama said.

He argued that the US is held to a higher standard than other nations. "No one expects China to have an open debate about their surveillance programmes, or Russia to take the privacy concerns of citizens into account," he said. 

However, he added that the US has a "special obligation" to re-examine its intelligence capabilities because of the potential for trampling on civil liberties.

The steps Obama put in motion are aimed at adapting regulations to keep up with rapid changes in surveillance technology that permits the NSA to monitor private communications globally.

Among the list of reforms was a call on Congress to establish an outside panel of privacy advocates for the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court that considers terrorism cases.

The former chief judge of the FISA court had opposed such a step. 

While the speech was designed to address concerns that US surveillance has gone too far, Obama's measures were seen to be relatively limited.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Sabrina Siddiqui, political reporter of the Huffington Post, said the changes that Obama announced is "a big vindication" of Snowden.

"The proposal would not have come about" without the Snowden expose, Siddiqui said.

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Source:
Al Jazeera And Reuters
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