The United States will continue to spy on foreign governments, President Barack Obama has said even as he assured Chancellor Angela Merkel that he would not allow the surveillance mechanism to harm their bilateral relations.
Seen as the first step to win back trust of its allies, Mr. Obama defended the controversial spying programme as necessary to safeguard the security of America and its allies, including Germany.
“Our intelligence agencies, like German intelligence agencies, and every intelligence agency out there, will continue to be interested in the government intentions of countries around the world. That’s not going to change,” Mr. Obama said.
“There is no point in having intelligence agencies if you are restricted to the things which you can read in the New York Times or in the Spiegel,” he said in an interview to the German network ZDF.
Seeking damage control in the wake of global public outrage over the widespread snooping revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, Mr. Obama announced on Friday restrictions on NSA’s intelligence gathering capabilities to put an end to the surveillance of “foreign leaders of friendly nations” but ruled out scrapping the controversial programme altogether.
In that major policy speech, Mr. Obama had asked to balance between civil liberties of Americans and people across the globe and meeting the US security and intelligence needs.
The speech aimed at allaying global public outrage over the widespread eavesdropping revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, which showed that US collected massive amounts of electronic data from communications of private individuals around the world, and has spied on foreign leaders including Ms. Merkel.
The U.S. President, however said he would not allow the surveillance to harm his relationship of “friendship and trust” with Ms. Merkel.
“I don’t need and I don’t want to harm that relationship by surveillance mechanism that has somehow impeded the kind of communication and trust we have,” Mr. Obama said.
“As long as I am the president of the US, the chancellor and Germany will not have to worry about this,” Mr. Obama said.
In a latest revelation reported by the Guardian newspaper and Britain’s Channel 4 News based on documents leaked by Mr. Snowden, NSA has collected and stored almost 200 million mobile text messages every day across the globe.
However, Mr. Obama in a presidential decree has ordered that telephone and Internet surveillance will be carried out abroad only if US security threats are involved and to extend US rules on privacy protection to foreign citizens.
He had also ordered restrictions on the use of the metadata — information on the telephone numbers, time and duration of calls — collected by the intelligence services.