US President Barack Obama has announced that the US will scale back eavesdropping on foreign leaders and began reining in the vast collection of Americans’ phone data in a series of reforms triggered by Edward Snowden’s revelations.
In a major speech, Obama took steps to reassure Americans and foreigners alike that the United States will take into account privacy concerns. Unease arose after former US spy contractor Snowden’s damaging disclosures about the monitoring activities of the National Security Agency (NSA).
Obama promised that the US will not eavesdrop on the heads of state or government of close US friends and allies, which a senior administration official said would apply to dozens of leaders.
The move will start the process of diplomatic healing after widespread reports of spying on US allies such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff postponed a state visit to Washington to protest US 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.
One of the biggest changes will be an overhaul of the government’s handling of bulk telephone “metadata.” He said the
programme will be ended as it currently exists.
While a presidential advisory panel had recommended that the bulk data be controlled by a third party such as the telephone companies, Obama did not plan to offer a specific proposal for who should store the data in the future.
Obama has asked Attorney General Eric Holder and the intelligence community to report back to him on how to preserve the necessary capabilities of the programme, without the government holding the metadata. He will receive their reports before the metadata programme comes up for reauthorisation on March 28
Obama said US intelligence agencies will only use bulk collection of data for fighting terrorism, protecting US troops and allies, and combatting crime.