Washington: As President Barack Obama ordered curbs on data collected by US intelligence agencies and vowed not to monitor the communications of "our close friends and allies,`` critics said the changes do not go far enough.
In a much-anticipated speech at the Department of Justice Friday, Obama said such data had prevented terror attacks at home and abroad, but that in tackling threats the government risked over-reaching itself. Obama`s remarks came in response to widespread anger after leaks revealed that the US collects massive amounts of electronic data from communications of private individuals around the world, and has spied on foreign leaders.
But he offered no apology for the effectiveness of US intelligence operations saying it was necessary for the US to continue collecting large amounts of data even as he acknowledged "the potential of abuse".
"The reforms I`m proposing today should give the American people greater confidence that their rights are being protected, even as our intelligence and law enforcement agencies maintain the tools they need to keep us safe," he said.
Obama offered assurances to non-Americans, saying people around the world "should know that the United States is not spying on ordinary people who don`t threaten our national security".
"This applies to foreign leaders as well," he said, promising that from now on the US "will not monitor the communications of heads of state and government of our close friends and allies".
The influential Washington Post suggested that Obama`s restrictions on the National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance rely on "an unusually narrow definition of "spying."
The changes he announced will allow NSA to continue - or expand - the collection of personal data from billions of people around the world, Americans and foreign citizens alike, it noted. It does not include the ingestion of tens of trillions of records about the telephone calls, e-mails, locations and relationships of people for whom there is no suspicion of relevance to any threat.
In the New York Times view even as "Obama spoke eloquently of the need to balance the nation`s security with personal privacy and civil liberties, many of his reforms were frustratingly short on specifics and vague on implementation."
"Obama wisely sought to tamp down the international furore over surveillance of foreign leaders and ordinary citizens by announcing restrictions on the collection, use and retention of that data," it noted.
The president, the Times said, was right to acknowledge that leaders can no longer say, "Trust us, we won`t abuse the data we collect."
"But to earn back that trust, he should be forthright about what led Americans to be nervous about their own intelligence agencies, and he should build stronger protections to end those fears," it said.