President Obama at a joint press conference with French President Francois Hollande denied that the U.S. had “no-spy” agreements with any nations, but pledged to respect the privacy rights of foreign citizens.
Obama disputed a suggestion from a French reporter that the U.S. had an agreement with the United Kingdom not to spy on each other's citizens.
“It's not actually correct to say that we have a, quote-unquote, no-spy agreement with Great Britain,” said Obama. “That's not actually what happens.
“There's no country where we have a no-spy agreement. You know, we have, like every other country, you know, an intelligence capability, and then we have a range of partnerships with all kinds of countries. And we've been in consultations with the French government to deepen those commitments.”
The U.S., United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have long cooperated closely on intelligence matters.
The National Security Agency's surveillance of phone and Internet traffic, which were disclosed by former contractor Edward Snowden, sparked international outrage -- especially among U.S. allies. Among Snowden's disclosures were revelations that the U.S. swept up French phone records and may have monitored German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The president defended U.S. spying and, citing his recent reforms to the agency’s practices, said he had a “strong commitment” to ensuring that surveillance practices both at home and abroad properly balanced national security and privacy concerns.
“What I've also said, both publicly and privately — and I want to reiterate today to the French press — is that we are committed to making sure that we are protecting and concerned about the privacy rights not just of Americans, not just of our own citizens, but of people around the world as well,” said the president.
“That's a commitment, by the way, that's fairly unprecedented in terms of any country's intelligence operations,” he added.
“We are putting rules in place so that we're not engaging in what some of the speculation has been when it comes to ordinary citizens in France,” Obama continued. “We are respectful of their privacy rights and we are going to make sure that our rules are abiding by concerns about those privacy rights.”
Hollande said that he had discussed the NSA with Obama and said that they had “clarified” their differences.
“Mutual trust has been restored, and that mutual trust must be based on respect for each other's country, but also based on protection, protection of private life, of personal data, the fact that any individual, in spite of technological progress, can be sure that he's not being spied on,” said the French leader.
“These are principles that unite us,” he added.