President Barack Obama says the United States will not apologize for the National Security Agency’s controversial spying programs at home and abroad, but promises modest changes.
During a major policy speech on Friday, Obama ordered changes to US intelligence-gathering practices, but the changes fall short of the drastic cutbacks demanded by privacy activists.
"Now let me be clear, our intelligence agencies will continue to gather information about the intentions of governments – as opposed to ordinary citizens – around the world, in the same way that the intelligence services of every other nation does. We will not apologize simply because our services may be more effective," Obama said.
The president tried to reassure Americans and foreigners alike that the United States will take into account concerns triggered by disclosures from Edward Snowden, a former NSA and CIA contractor.
He announced a ban on eavesdropping on leaders of close friends which has ignited a diplomatic firestorm with US allies like Germany.
"But heads of state and government with whom we work closely, and on whose cooperation we depend, should feel confident that we are treating them as real partners. The changes I’ve ordered do just that," he stated.
Obama also said that he has ordered a transition period during which the NSA’s bulk metadata program will be replaced by a "mechanism that preserves the capabilities we need without the government holding this bulk metadata."
Human Rights Watch has sent a letter to Obama, urging him to rein in Washington’s spying activities and respect the privacy rights of people around the world.