WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has dismissed President Barack Obama’s proposals to curb the reach of the National Security Agency (NSA), saying they would change very little.
In a speech intended to quell the furore over surveillance programs leaked by Edward Snowden, Obama said spy taps on friendly world leaders would be halted while foreigners caught in US data mining would be given new protections.
Obama, however, argued that bulk data collection must be allowed to continue in order to protect America from terrorists.
Assange described Obama’s speech as “embarrassing”, telling CNN in an interview from London that the proposals would have little effect.
Obama had been “dragged, kicking and screaming” into making Friday’s comments, only because of revelations from Snowden and other intelligence leakers before him, Assange said on Friday.
“It’s embarrassing for a head of state to go on like that for 45 minutes and say almost nothing,” Assange told CNN.
“He is being very reluctant to make any concrete reforms. And unfortunately today we also see very few concrete reforms.”
Assange was sceptical that a move obliging NSA agents to seek endorsement from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA), before accessing data on a specific target would be effective.
“The FISA court … is known to be the most secret captive court in the United States that’s producing secret judge-made law,” Assange said.
He also said the appointment of a public advocate to sit on the FISA court was “unlikely to produce a decent result”.
A pledge not to spy on friendly world leaders was also meaningless, Assange said.
“We’re not going to spy on (German Chancellor) Angela Merkel or (British Prime Minister) David Cameron. Or the Australian prime minister. Sure. But let me just spy on everyone else they talk to. It doesn’t mean anything to not spy on world leaders.”
Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadoran embassy in London since 2012, where he is fighting extradition to Sweden.
His lawyers fear if sent to Sweden to face questioning over sexual assault allegations he may then in turn be sent to the United States for prosecution over the leaks of classified American military and diplomatic documents.