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

US, China Have Dueling Definitions of Cybersecurity

Analysts say attribution or or proving that a particular individual or government is responsible for a hack, is a daunting task More

Snowden: I'd Go to Prison to Return to US

Former NSA contractor says he has not received a formal plea-deal offer from US officials, who consider him to be a traitor More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs