Obama delivered a prepared speech when announcing the NSA reforms at the Justice Department on Friday, and said that the agency had helped to “secure our country and our freedoms” by gathering insight on everything from the Soviet Union in the early days of the Cold War to compromising previously unknown Al Qaeda cells.
As part of the reforms, Obama said that the agency will store telephone data at private entities (the president downplayed suggestions that the program holds the contents of phone calls), and added that the agency will only collect data on phone calls ‘two steps removed' from a phone number associated with a terrorist organisation. The U.S President also wants intelligence agencies to get a secretive court's permission, prior to accessing such data from phone databases.
What's more, and in light of the widely-publicised leaks from former CIA contractor Edward Snowden that the agency was spying on senior world leaders, even from ally countries, Obama said that it will tone-down spying where necessary.
"Given the understandable attention that this issue has received, I have made clear to the intelligence community that – unless there is a compelling national security purpose – we will not monitor the communications of heads of state and government of our close friends and allies."
The U.S. President continued with a strong defence of the agency, by saying that the country's intelligence services would “continue to monitor the intentions of governments around the world", and rejected the opportunity to apologise for the surveillance. “We shouldn't have to apologise just because our capabilities are greater than others,” he said.
Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who broke the news of the NSA surveillance in a series of interviews with Snowden, was quick to react to Obama's speech, which he slammed as “basically a PR gesture”.
“It's really just basically a PR gesture, a way to calm the public and to make them think there's reform when in reality there really won't be," he said to Al Jazeera America.
"And I think that if the public, at this point, has heard enough about what the NSA does and how invasive it is, that they're going to need more than just a pretty speech from President Obama to feel as though their concerns have been addressed.”
Dr Rand Paul, a junior senator in Kentucky, US, also spoke of his disappointment on the announcement, and said that the proposal was for the “same unconstitutional program with a new configuration”.
“While I am encouraged the President is addressing the NSA spying program because of pressure from Congress and the American people, I am disappointed in the details,” he said on his website.
“The Fourth Amendment requires an individualised warrant based on probable cause before the government can search phone records and e-mails. President Obama's announced solution to the NSA spying controversy is the same unconstitutional program with a new configuration.”
"I intend to continue the fight to restore Americans rights through my Fourth Amendment Restoration Act and my legal challenge against the NSA. The American people should not expect the fox to guard the hen house."