It appears increasingly likely that the U.S. National Security Agency will have to eventually accept reform of its surveillance programmes after President Barack Obama said this week that the mass collection of private data by the Agency may be unnecessary and there may be different ways of allowing the intelligence community to protect national security without compromising privacy.

Mr. Obama appeared to be leaning towards the recent recommendations of a review panel to “shift responsibility for the bulk collection of telephone records away from the NSA and on to the phone companies,” in a bid to restore public confidence.

Since June this year a sharp debate on the Internet and telephone spying programmes of the NSA has taken place, after former NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden passed on confidential Agency documents to the press.

Those documents spelt out in detail the mass global surveillance undertaken by the U.S. on foreign targets including allies such as Germany and partners such as India, and in some cases questions were raised on whether Americans had also been monitored in violation of the rules of the governing Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). This week, in his final press conference for the year, Mr. Obama said that in the light of these disclosures, “It is clear that whatever benefits the configuration of this particular programme may have, may be outweighed by the concerns that people have on its potential abuse.”

He added, “If that’s the case, there may be a better way of skinning the cat.”

After it was revealed that the NSA had also tapped the phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Mr. Obama seemed to put distance between the White House and the authorisation of such programmes.

Judge’s opinion

This week although he indicated that he would probably not make a final decision on reforming the surveillance activities until January, his broad endorsement of reform came on the back of a federal judge saying for the first time ever that the NSA’s programmes were “very likely” to be unconstitutional.

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