WASHINGTON, D.C. — “Throughout American history, intelligence has helped secure our country and our freedoms.”
President Obama, speaking at the Justice Department Friday, tracked the vital role of secret surveillance back to the country’s founding. The challenge, he says, is getting the details right.
"I have often reminded myself that I would not be where I am today were it not for the courage of dissidents, like Dr. King, who were spied on by their own government; as a president who looks at intelligence every morning, I also can’t help but be reminded that America must be vigilant in the face of threats."
The highly anticipated speech by President Obama comes after more than six months of debate about the National Security Agency's spying and data collection programs, a debate that was sparked by the leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. President Obama said he wouldn’t talk about Snowden’s actions or motivations, but he said his the leaks undermined the nation’s defense.
"If any individual who objects to government policy can take it in their own hands to publicly disclose classified information, then we will never be able to keep our people safe, or conduct foreign policy."
Though the president defended American intelligence programs, he also recommended reform. He says he wants the NSA to stop holding on to massive amounts of data about the phone calls of millions of people around the world. He wants a public advocate to represent privacy concerns at a secret intelligence court, and he vowed that the U.S. will not listen in on phone calls of allied leaders.
President Obama said the debate will ultimately make the country stronger.
"No one expects China to have an open debate about their surveillance programs, or Russia to take the privacy concerns of citizens into account. But let us remember that we are held to a different standard precisely because we have been at the forefront in defending personal privacy and human dignity."