President Barack Obama said Friday he will work with Congress on reforms of the portions of the PATRIOT Act that have to do with collection of phone records, and will get outside experts to review the government's intelligence-gathering technology.
Those are among the steps he announced at a press conference Friday. He promised greater oversight of info collection programs, better transparency about the legal underpinnings, and new constraints on the use of that authority.
Those are in the wake of revelations about info collection under the Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act leaked by NSA analyst Edward Snowden.
Obama said that people who had lawfully raised the issue of privacy and security were patriots, but that definition did not extent to Snowden.
The president also said there needed to be more assurances that when the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees government requests for warrants for info, it hears both sides of the story, rather than just the government's.
Obama said that the intelligence community would make more information about its collection public, describing it as getting the whole elephant in the room rather than a trunk here and a leg there.
A "high-level" group of outside experts will review intelligence gathering technology, which he said was in service of "finding a needle in a haystack" of global telecom. A report back from that group will be due by year's end. The NSA is also installing a full-time civil liberties and privacy officer.
But while he was acknowledging the government could be more transparent about what it was doing, Obama also emphasized that the government was not interested in spying on private citizens. He also said this country's restricted collection of online info should not be confused with other countries that throw their citizens in jail for going online.
Also at the press conference, the president gave TV rightsholder Comcast/NBCU a reason to breathe easier: saying he did not support boycotting the Olympic Games in Russia over the anti-gay legislation issue.