President Obama on Friday defended the National Security Agency's collection of phone metadata, saying he was confident that the agency did not abuse its powers.
But he added that he was weighing new restrictions to address public concerns about privacy and would take “very seriously” the 46 recommendations offered by an outside task force on reforming the government's surveillance programs.
“There have not been actual instances where its been alleged that the NSA acted inappropriately,” said Obama during his year-end press conference. “I have confidence in the fact that the NSA is not engaging in domestic surveillance or snooping around.”
“We may have to refine this further to give people more confidence and we need to give more confidence for the international community,” he added.
Obama said he would make a “pretty definitive statement in January” after reviewing the task force report. But the president cautioned that “we need this intelligence.”
“We can’t unilaterally disarm,” said Obama.
The president is facing calls from civil libertarians to enact more restrictions on the NSA’s surveillance of phone and internet traffic.
An independent panel Obama tasked with reviewing the agency’s programs provided a list of recommendations.
The NSA programs were disclosed by former government contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked classified information detailing the extent of the government's surveillance of electronic communications.
The president also rejected suggestions that the administration had misled the public about the extent of the NSA’s surveillance or the safeguards in place to protect abuse.
When disclosures about the scale of the NSA program first surfaced, Obama said that the surveillance in question had saved lives and thwarted terror threats and that he had struck the right balance.
"The statements I made then are entirely consistent with the statements I made now,” said Obama. “We believed we have scrubbed these programs and struck an appropriate balance.
"What is absolutely clear to me is that given the public debate that's taken place and the disclosures that have taken place over the last several months that this is only going to work if the American people have confidence and trust."