'We Should Be Thanking Snowden': Obama Forced to Consider NSA Reforms

President Barack Obama claimed in his end-of-the-year press conference on Friday that he will consider his NSA review board’s suggestions for limited reforms—a development that many say reflects the shift in public debate sparked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Yet, Obama refused to touch the topic of amnesty for Snowden, claiming that public discussion of government spying could have occurred without his revelations, and continuing his vigorous defense of the unpopular mass surveillance programs.

“The president said that we could have had this important debate without Snowden, but no one seriously believes we would have,” said Ben Wizner, Snowden’s attorney, in an interview with The Guardian: “And now that a federal court and the president’s own review panel have agreed that the NSA’s activities are illegal and unwise, we should be thanking Snowden, not prosecuting him.”

Saying he will not make a final decision until January, Obama indicated he will consider halting the widely criticized NSA practice of mass collecting data on nearly every phone call made to and within the United States. Yet, he suggested that he might require private phone companies to collect the data instead.

Obama directly referenced Snowden’s whistleblowing in what some are calling his strongest comments yet on bulk phone spying. “In light of the disclosures, it is clear that whatever benefits the configuration of this particular program may have, may be outweighed by the concerns that people have on its potential abuse,” stated Obama. “If it that’s the case, there may be a better way of skinning the cat.”

However, this did not stop Obama from vigorously defending NSA spying. “There have not been actual instances where it’s been alleged that the NSA in some ways acted inappropriately in the use of this data,” he said.