Obama Acknowledges Edward Snowden Disclosures in NSA Reform Speech
President Barack Obama mentioned NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden by name on Friday as he criticised his “unauthorised disclosures” but acknowledged that they had sparked the public debate over US surveillance capabilities.
The president had largely avoided namechecking Snowden his previous speeches on the NSA revelations which began on 5 June last year when the Guardian published details of the agency’s collection of all US phone records.
On Friday, Obama limited Snowden to two mentions in a more than 5,000 word speech.
“Given the fact of an open investigation, I’m not going to dwell on Mr Snowden’s actions or motivations,” Obama said as he announced reforms to the NSA including the end of government storage of phone data.
“I will say that our nation’s defence depends in part on the fidelity of those entrusted with our nation’s secrets.
“If any individual who objects to government policy can take it in their own hands to publicly disclose classified information, then we will never be able to keep our people safe, or conduct foreign policy.”
Despite his criticism for Snowden’s publication of the documents, Obama acknowledged the importance of the debate over government surveillance.
“One thing I’m certain of: this debate will make us stronger,” Obama said.
“It may seem sometimes that America is being held to a different standard, and the readiness of some to assume the worst motives by our government can be frustrating. No one expects China to have an open debate about their surveillance programs, or Russia to take the privacy concerns of citizens into account.
“But let us remember that we are held to a different standard precisely because we have been at the forefront in defending personal privacy and human dignity.”
Later Obama referred to the “Snowden disclosures” as he argued that the US “has special responsibilities as the world’s only superpower”.
Snowden is currently in Russia, where he was granted temporary asylum last August. He has been charged with theft of government property, unauthorised communication of national defence information and willful communication of classified communications intelligence information to an unauthorised person.
Obama criticised the “sensational way” the NSA revelations had come out, lamenting that it had “often shed more heat than light, while revealing methods to our adversaries that could impact our operations in ways that we may not fully understand for years to come”.