President Barack Obama said he will propose new reforms to the National Security Agency aimed at giving Americans "more confidence" in the organization after various leaks revealed numerous wide-ranging government surveillance programs.
"The NSA actually does a very good job about not engaging in domestic surveillance, not reading people's emails, not listening to ... the contents of their phone calls," the president said Thursday during an interview with MSNBC's Chris Matthews.
"Outside of our borders, the NSA's more aggressive. It's not constrained by laws. And part of what we're trying to do over the next month or so is having done an independent review and brought a whole bunch of folks, civil libertarians and-- lawyers and others to examine what's being done."
"I'll be proposing some self-restraint on the NSA and initiating some reforms that can give people some more confidence."
The president did not specify what the reforms may be. But some U.S. allies were angered by reports accusing the agency of monitoring the phone conversations of 35 world leaders.
Obama's remarks came in the immediate wake of a Washington Post report which charged the NSA with gathering 5 billion records a day as a way to track cellphone locations worldwide.
Obama did not comment on this report, but did say that these leaks, largely perpetrated by former government contractor Edward Snowden, have identified some areas of legitimate legal concern.
But, he added, "some it has also been highly sensationalized."
While the president said he is looking to reform how the NSA operates overseas, he also defended the importance of the agency's overall mission.
"We do have people that are trying to hurt us, and they communicate through these same systems. ... we've got to be in there in some way to help protect people even as we're also making sure that government doesn't abuse it," he said.
"I want everybody to be clear. The people at the NSA, generally, are looking out for the safety of the American people. They are not interested in reading your emails. They're not interested in reading your text messages," he added later. "And we've got a big system of checks and balances, including the courts and Congress, who have the capacity to prevent that from happening."
First published December 5 2013, 4:00 PM