WASHINGTON — President Obama has ordered new rules for how the government conducts surveillance, imposing some new restrictions on intelligence agencies but leaving the bulk of what they do intact.
In a speech at the Justice Department, Obama acknowledged the unease that many Americans have felt about the widespread surveillance programs revealed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. But he strongly defended the NSA and other intelligence agencies, saying they have not abused their vast powers.
“Nothing that I have learned” since taking office indicates “that our intelligence community has sought to violate the law or is cavalier about the civil liberties of their fellow citizens,” Obama said. “They are not abusing authority in order to listen to your private phone calls or read your emails.”
Echoing warnings made by his predecessor, George W. Bush, Obama stressed that the U.S. faces “real enemies and threats, and that intelligence serves a vital role in confronting them.”
“America must be vigilant in face of threats,” he said.
But, he added, even though he does not believe the government’s surveillance powers have been abused, he recognizes that they are subject to abuse in the future.
“Given the unique power of the state, it is not enough for leaders to say: 'Trust us, we won’t abuse the data we collect.' For history has too many examples when that trust has been breached,” he said.
“People around the world – regardless of their nationality – should know that the United States is not spying on ordinary people,” he said.
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