President directs new intelligence panel to review email, phone surveillance

President Obama on Monday created a new review group to determine whether intelligence agencies are overstepping legal and ethical bounds in their tracking of emails and cellphone calls.

"Technological advances have brought with them both great opportunities and significant risks for our Intelligence Community," Obama said in a presidential memorandum creating the new intelligence oversight group. 

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"I believe it is important to take stock of how these technological advances alter the environment in which we conduct our intelligence mission," the president added.

Obama said the group was needed “to maintain the public trust” on intelligence operations.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said in a statement Monday that the review group would send its findings to Obama "within 60 days of its establishment" and "provide a final report with recommendations no later than Dec. 15, 2013."

The panel is part of the administration’s wide-ranging effort to increase transparency within the intelligence community and better balance national security and privacy interests after National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden disclosed secret surveillance programs. 

The president during a press conference last Friday also asked Congress to improve oversight of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows the government to collect phone records.

The White House is also seeking a larger role for civil liberties advocates in the secret courts that approve surveillance warrants.

Snowden, who faces federal espionage charges for the illegal leaks, was recently granted temporary asylum in Russia, prompting Obama to cancel a bilateral summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Privacy advocates have praised the former NSA contractor’s disclosures and called him a whistle-blower for exposing the surveillance activities.

Obama, however, said that he doesn't "think Mr. Snowden was a patriot" and that the disclosure of classified intelligence programs did more harm than good to U.S. national security and counterterrorism objectives. 

“I called for a thorough review of our surveillance operations before Mr. Snowden made these leaks,” he said on Friday.

“My preference, and I think the American people's preference, would have been ... a thoughtful fact-based debate that would then lead us to a better place," Obama said.

While the new measures are geared toward shedding light into the inner workings of the U.S. intelligence community, Obama was adamant the NSA programs under scrutiny did not violate any laws. 

"What you are not reading about is the government actually abusing these programs . . . what you are hearing [about] is the prospect of abuse," Obama said during last Friday's press conference.

Obama added that "given the scale of this program, I understand the concerns of those who worry that it could lead to abuse.”

The new White House panel's initial findings are due to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper by November, according to the presidential memo. 

Final findings and recommendations from the panel and Clapper will be sent to the White House no later than December.