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Project on Government Oversight

What the President Didn’t Say in His Speech on Surveillance Reform

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January 17, 2014

Statement of Danielle Brian, Executive Director,
Project On Government Oversight

We’re encouraged that President Obama today acknowledged the dangers posed to our civil liberties by unchecked and overreaching intelligence gathering. His speech sets the stage for important reforms.

It is significant that he noted the need to declassify Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinions but there is still need for more reforms to end secret laws. In addition, Congress must act to protect the civil liberties of Americans and should not delay in passing the USA FREEDOM Act.

Today’s important discussion would not have happened if Edward Snowden hadn’t thrust the scope of the government’s activities into the open. Unfortunately, one major issue the president did not address was the fact Snowden did not have safe channels to make disclosures. If the president wants to prevent leaks, there must be meaningful intelligence community whistleblower protections.

Congress must finally act to ensure whistleblowers are protected when making disclosures to any member of Congress and independent federal agencies outside of the intelligence community, such as the Office of Special Counsel and the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.

Congressional oversight is vital—the intelligence agencies cannot police themselves.

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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