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Obama: surveillance safeguards worked, but must be improved

U.S. President Barack Obama steps off his bus at Magnolia's Deli and Cafe in Rochester, New York, August 22, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Reed
U.S. President Barack Obama steps off his bus at Magnolia's Deli and Cafe in Rochester, New York, August 22, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Reed

(Reuters) - Safeguards to ensure that U.S. surveillance measures are not abused have worked but must be improved as technology advances, President Barack Obama said in an interview with CNN that aired on Friday.

The Obama administration has been on the defensive since former U.S. contractor Edward Snowden revealed information on the sweep of secret government surveillance measures.

The president has made a point of saying the programs were not spying on Americans. But documents released this week showed the National Security Agency may have unintentionally collected as many as 56,000 emails of Americans per year between 2008 and 2011. A secret U.S. court subsequently said the program may have violated U.S. law.

The revelations led to new questions about operations by the eavesdropping NSA and its oversight by the secret U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC).

Obama said the discovery of the mistake and the court's demand that safeguards be improved showed the system of oversight had functioned appropriately.

"All these safeguards, checks, audits, oversight worked," he said in the interview on CNN's "New Day" program.

But the president acknowledged, as he has before, that more could be done to increase the public's confidence in the programs.

"There are legitimate concerns that people have that technology is moving so quick that, you know, at some point, does the technology outpace the laws that are in place and the protections that are in place?" he said.

"Do some of these systems end up being like a loaded gun out there that somebody at some future point could abuse?" he added.

Obama said he was confident the NSA was not abusing its powers.

"What I recognize is that we're going to have to continue to improve the safeguards and, as technology moves forward, that means that we may be able to build technologies that give people more assurance, and we do have to do a better job of giving people confidence in how these programs work," he said.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Vicki Allen)

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