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

Video Obama to Send 3,000 Troops to Liberia in Ebola Fight

At Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, President says US will take leadership role for a global response to deadly Ebola virus that is ravaging West Africa More

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

Muslims in Kunming say that they condemn the violence, it is not a reflection of the true beliefs of their faith More

Humanitarian Aid, Equipment Blocked in Cameroon

Move is seen as a developing supply crisis in West Africa More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Spacei
X
September 17, 2014 4:20 AM
The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid