WASHINGTON, Aug. 9 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday announced a host of measures to strengthen oversight and transparency of the country's controversial surveillance program, aiming to ease public concerns and uneasiness.
But experts here say that his promises are of no structural change to the program.
His proposals included reforming the Patriot Act program that collects telephone records; working with Congress to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC); increasing transparency on collection of data and setting up a website to shed light into that shady world; and setting up a "high-level group of outside experts" to review surveillance technologies.
The proposals came as former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden's revelations about secret NSA snooping both domestically and abroad created a furious uproar, putting the Obama administration in a very uncomfortable situation.
The move to create more transparency in the surveillance program is clearly meant to assuage worries of the American public, as Obama said the "drip by drip" cascade of stories based on documents provided by Snowden had "changed the environment" and impacted public perceptions.
"Given the history of abuse by governments, it's right to ask questions about surveillance -- particularly as technology is reshaping every aspect of our lives," said Obama at a White House press conference announcing the measures.
"In other words, it's not enough for me, as President, to have confidence in these programs. The American people need to have confidence in them as well," he said.
But how much assurance such measures can give to the American public is a matter of debate, analysts said.
Obama's proposals gave few specifics as to how he would solve the issue. Instead, he simply gave vague promises to talk things through with the gridlocked Congress, stopping short of endorsing substantive changes to Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the legal provision which allows vast collection of Americans' call data on the basis that it is "relevant" to terrorism investigations.
He did make certain specific pledges. He proposed creating a security-cleared public advocate who could appear at secret FISC court sessions and raise questions about surveillance proposals.
The courts were criticized to have rubber-stamped government requests to gather call data as well as vast swaths of information from internet traffic and emails in and out of the United States.
The creation of a "high-level group of outside experts" to review surveillance technologies also seemed to have been in the works.
Obama met with Apple CEO Tim Cook, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, Google computer scientist Vint Cerf and other tech executives and civil liberties leaders on Thursday about government surveillance.
The participants at the meeting were believed to be possible members of the forthcoming group.
But those specifics didn't mount to structural change in the controversial surveillance program, but were more of a marketing ploy to make them more acceptable to the American public.
As Obama tried to put the American public, especially his liberal supporters, at ease, he made no effort to quell the suspicion and distrust by the programs abroad. Instead, he bragged about the "restraint" shown by the U.S. side when conducting surveillance.
"It's true we have significant capabilities," said Obama. "What's also true is we show a restraint that many governments around the world don't even think to do, refuse to show -- and that includes, by the way, some of America's most vocal critics."
Just hours prior to Obama's press conference, the Guardian, the British newspaper which published much of Snowden's leaks, reported that the NSA can use a secret backdoor to its database under legal authority, enabling it to search for U.S. citizens' email and phone calls without a warrant.