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President Obama has dismissed claims that the US is spying on its citizens and said any intelligence gathering done by the security forces is legal and "transparent", while at the same time asking the security services to look at how to declassify aspects of the programme.
In an interview with broadcaster Charlie Rose the president answered several questions on the PRISM scandal that has broken over the past two weeks and he reiterated that the stringent legal processes in place that are required for any data gathering.
“What I can say unequivocally is that if you are a US person, the NSA cannot listen to your telephone calls, and the NSA [National Security Agency] cannot target your emails,” he said. “They cannot and have not, by law and by rule, unless they go to a court, and obtain a warrant, and seek probable cause.”
Obama also said while the collection of bulk data, as gathered from Verizon, could pose a potential privacy issue by allowing authorities to piece data together, such procedures would not take place as that is not authorised within the programme.
“For the government, under the program right now, to do that, it would be illegal. We would not be allowed to do that,” he added.
However, Obama also said he was now looking to make some aspects of the programmes used by the government agencies more open to reassure people that their data is not subject to any abuse.
“What I’ve asked the intelligence community to do is see how much of this we can declassify without further compromising the program,” he said.
“They are in that process of doing so now so that everything that I’m describing to you today – people, the public, newspapers, etcetera – can look at, because frankly, if people are making judgments just based on these slides that have been leaked, they’re not getting the complete story.”
He also said that given the huge growth of big data sets owned by the government and big businesses, he was setting up a committee to oversee how it is gathered and used.
“What I want to do is to set up and structure a national conversation, not only about these two programs, but also the general problem of data, big data sets, because this is not going to be restricted to government entities.”
“I’ve stood up a privacy and civil liberties oversight board, made up of independent citizens including some fierce civil libertarians. I’ll be meeting with them.”