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US surveillance went too far, admits John Kerry

Speaking to a conference from the Open Government Partnership,the US secretary of state says that some of the surveillance actions were on automatic pilot.

Secretary of State John Kerry addresses questions about US surveillance.
Secretary of State John Kerry addresses questions about US surveillance.
YouTube/Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

United States Secretary of State John Kerry has acknowledged that some of the government's surveillance activities reached too far.

Answering questions about the surveillance controversy on Thursday from attendees of the Open Government Partnership conference, Kerry said that some of the actions occurred because the program was on autopilot, inferring that the Obama administration was unaware of what was going on.

"The president and I have learned of some things that have been happening in many ways on an automatic pilot, because the technology is there and the ability is there," Kerry said, according to the Guardian. "In some cases, some of these actions have reached too far and we are going to try to make sure it doesn't happen in the future."

Kerry said that the recent reports of US spying on foreign leaders contained an "enormous amount of exaggeration and misreporting." And he defended the overall surveillance conducted by different countries as a way to thwart terrorist activity.

Following the 9/11 attacks, the "US and others -- I emphasize to you, others -- realized that we are dealing with a new world where people are willing to blow themselves up," Kerry said. "There are countless examples. Look at Nairobi. What if you were able to intercept that? We have prevented airplanes from going down and buildings from being blown up because we have learned ahead of time of such plans."

But he noted that the president has ordered a review of US surveillance tactics.

"There is an effort to try to gather information, yes, in same cases inappropriately, and the president is now doing a thorough review, in order that nobody will have a sense of abuse," he said.

Washington is trying to come up with ways to ensure that the surveillance program doesn't get stuck on autopilot again.

Obama has authorized both internal and external reviews of the NSA's activities. A bill called the FISA Improvements Act seeks to curtail or limit some of the actions allowed through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the US Patriot Act. Sponsored by California Senator Dianne Feinstein, the bill was approved on Thursday by the Senate Intelligence Committee.