News / USA

Obama Weighing Curbs on US Surveillance

President Barack Obama speaks during an end-of-the year news conference at the White House, Dec. 20, 2013.
President Barack Obama speaks during an end-of-the year news conference at the White House, Dec. 20, 2013.
VOA News
U.S. President Barack Obama says he is considering whether to curtail the vast surveillance programs being conducted by the clandestine National Security Agency and expects to make decisions in January on the scope of the spying.

Obama defended the spying at a year-end news conference Friday at the White House, saying the United States needs the intelligence to thwart potential terrorist attacks against it. He said the U.S. "can't unilaterally disarm."

The president, however, also said Americans are "rightly concerned about the possibility of misuse" of the data that the NSA is collecting.  Obama said the surveillance programs are "only going to work if the American people have trust" in them.

Obama made the comments days after a judge ruled that the government's collection of millions of records of phone calls made by Americans -- the numbers they called, and the length and dates of the calls -- is likely unconstitutional. A review panel suggested curtailing some of the spy programs.

Obama addressed a wide range of subjects before heading to the island state of Hawaii with first lady Michelle Obama and their two daughters for the Christmas and New Year's Day holidays.

He said the leak of details of the NSA surveillance by one-time national security contractor Edward Snowden damaged the country's intelligence capabilities and hurt its diplomatic relations with other countries.

The president declined to comment on whether he might consider granting Snowden amnesty. Snowden is now living in asylum in Russia and facing U.S. espionage charges, but one high-level NSA official recently suggested amnesty could be considered if the U.S. could collect all the remaining cache of documents he took.

Some U.S. lawmakers have called for more sanctions against Iran, to curb Tehran's nuclear development program.  Obama said if the international community is serious about negotiations, it has to create an atmosphere that gets Iran to continue to move toward resolving the nuclear issue.

He said the interim deal that world powers struck with Iran in Geneva has already led to some rolling back of Iran's nuclear capabilities -- the first time that has happened in almost a decade of dispute.

Obama said "it is very important to test" whether a permanent deal can be completed -- "not because it's guaranteed, but because the alternative is possibly us having to engage in some sort of conflict to resolve the problem with all sorts of unintended consequences."

Obama defended national health care reforms -- popularly known as Obamacare -- that are now being implemented in the U.S. He said "the basic structure of that law is working," but acknowledged the rollout has been a "messy process."

With the national security disclosures and the health care roll-out, U.S. political analysts say that 2013 has been the worst of Obama's five years in the White House. His approval ratings have fallen sharply, with a new CNN survey showing that Americans - by a 56-to-41 percent margin - disapprove of his handling of the presidency.

Obama acknowledged that his opinion poll numbers are low, but said his ratings have gone up and down throughout the course of his career.  Obama said if he were interested in polling results, he never would have run for the presidency.

He said that 2014 "needs to be a year of action," with the country boosting its labor market and fixing its broken immigration system. He noted the recent advance in the U.S. economy, but said more needs to be done to cut the jobless rate and renew benefits for long-term unemployed workers.

While the U.S. often has been consumed by political gridlock during his presidency, Obama said that a recent agreement with Congress on a budget for the next two years proves Washington does not have to have "endless gridlock."

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs