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Obama to announce overhaul to controversial NSA program

President Obama To Speak On NSA Reform

(Reuters) - President Barack Obama will announce on Friday a major overhaul of a controversial National Security Agency program that collects vast amounts of basic telephone call data on foreigners and Americans, a senior Obama administration official said.

In an 11 a.m. (1600 GMT) speech at the Justice Department, Obama will say he is ordering a transition that will significantly change the handling of what is known as the telephone "metadata" program from the way the NSA currently handles it.

Obama's move is aimed at restoring Americans' confidence in U.S. intelligence practices and caps months of reviews by the White House in the wake of damaging disclosures about U.S. surveillance tactics from former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden.

In a nod to privacy advocates, Obama will say he has decided that the government should not hold the bulk telephone metadata, a decision that could frustrate some intelligence officials.

In addition, he will order that effectively immediately, "we will take steps to modify the program so that a judicial finding is required before we query the database," said the senior official, who revealed details of the speech on condition of anonymity.

While a presidential advisory panel had recommended that the bulk data be controlled by a third party such as the telephone companies, Obama will not offer a specific proposal for who should store the data in the future.

Obama has asked Attorney General Eric Holder and the intelligence community to report back to him before the program comes up for reauthorization on March 28 on how to preserve the necessary capabilities of the program, without the government holding the metadata.

"At the same time, he will consult with the relevant committees in Congress to seek their views," the official said.

Obama is balancing public anger at the disclosure of intrusion into Americans' privacy with his commitment to retain policies he considers critical to protecting the United States.

The official said Obama believes the bulk data program is important to countering terrorist threats but that "we can and should be able to preserve those capabilities while addressing the privacy and civil liberties concerns that are raised by the government holding this meta-data."

People familiar with the administration's deliberations say Obama also is expected to agree to other reforms, such as greatly scaling back spying on foreign leaders and putting a public advocate on the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.


But the revelation that the NSA had been collecting vast amounts of telephone metadata on both foreigners and Americans, which had been done in secret for years, became the Snowden disclosure that generated the most heated domestic U.S. political controversy and led to the introduction of conflicting bills in Congress.

The Intelligence committees of both the Senate and House had signaled that they believed current telephone metadata arrangements, under which the data is collected and held by the NSA for five years, should remain in place.

But both the Senate and House Judiciary committees had approved bills that would eliminate domestic metadata collection entirely.

The presidential advisory panel that submitted its recommendations to Obama late last year said collecting telephone metadata, which shows which numbers call which other numbers, and the time and length of calls, should be taken out of NSA control and handed to a third party, such as the phone companies themselves.

Intelligence officials for some time had been circulating secret proposals for having the data stored by phone companies or a non-profit group, and some officials had signaled publicly that NSA might have to accept changes.

Other officials have privately argued that if the system were changed, the NSA should still have instant, direct, online access to the data.

Citing recent breaches of credit card and personal data suffered by Target stores, government officials opposed to changes in the current arrangements for metadata collection argue that the review panel's proposals would make Americans' phone data less, rather than more secure.

Members of the review panel met with top administration officials on Wednesday to discuss the president's speech.


Obama has been under pressure from the intelligence community and key lawmakers to avoid tampering with programs they see as vital to thwarting terrorism plots.

"We believe the program is legal. I am hopeful it's sustained by the president, maybe in slightly different form," said Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee and an important voice in the NSA debate.

Snowden leaked secrets about mass collection of telephone data and other secret eavesdropping programs to newspapers before fleeing to Hong Kong and then to Moscow. Journalists with access to Snowden's materials say there are many more disclosures to come.

When the Snowden disclosures first appeared last June, Obama said, "We've struck the right balance" between the desire for information and the need to respect Americans' privacy.

But after a disclosure of U.S. eavesdropping on German Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone, he called for "additional constraints" on American surveillance practices.

Privacy advocates have been appealing for greater protections for Americans' constitutional right to privacy. Some privacy advocates will doubtless be pleased by Obama's plan but other NSA critics may say the president did not go far enough.

"While we welcome the president's acknowledgement that reforms must be made, we warn the president not to expect thunderous applause for cosmetic reforms. We demand more than the illusion of reform," said David Segal, executive director of Demand Progress, a civil liberties advocacy organization.

As well as the tension with Germany, the eavesdropping has disrupted relations with some other nations. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff postponed a state visit to the United States to express her anger over U.S. intrusions in her country.

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beniehill January 17 2014 at 11:11 AM

He is going to make it worse.

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1 reply
eecenod beniehill January 17 2014 at 11:22 AM

remember the guy with the idea to sell cat skins and make billions absolutely free! studying the reproductive rates of cats and mice he decided he could feed a pair of cats with rats and the offspring would be skinned and the bodies of the skinned cats would be fed to the rats and he could sell the catskins and continue the cycle of feeding rats to cats and cats to rats and get the cat skins free and sell them??? GUESS WHAT?

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ronlodrini January 17 2014 at 9:52 AM

Sure! Now that he knows we are aware of his spying he has to come up with some other agency to hide everything! Obama is the worse President this country has ever seen! The only person he has helped is Jimmy Carter! Carter use to be the worse President this country has ever seen before the idiots in this country voted Obama into office. Hillary is no better! We really need New Leadership to turn this country around and make us proud to be an American again!!!

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mistersuperskip January 17 2014 at 9:53 AM

Hasn't Obama done enough to screw up our country ? We would all be better off if he would just worry about what time is his tee time for the next three years.

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nbvhs75 January 17 2014 at 9:54 AM

Too late, and can never trust a liar like that Idiot in the White House! Never voted for for you, as I did my due diligence and knew the sime ball you are, the epidimy of ignorance! Get the hell out of my house and take your over indulged family with you back to Kenya!

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quincy_maxwell January 17 2014 at 11:05 AM

The only viable overhaul of the NSA is it's complete dismantling. No one seems to every think about or talk about the fact that the NSA is a huge money pit, as well as the Department of Homeland ( Do Nothing ) Security. The DHS has done nothing to thwart anything or any kind of "terrorist threat." The NSA has and continues to go far beyond it's boundaries of what they should be doing. People gripe and complain about big Government...and if you want to scale back and save billions a year, start slimming down with these departments. We have 16 "official" National Security agencies ...how many do we really need?
Not to mention, if we would stop *****-footing around with the Taliban and other terrorist organization and wipe them out once and for all....or at least get us the hell out of the middle east, then we can be a stronger nation.
There is absolutely no proof that all of this "spying" by our government against it's own citizens has thwarted anything whatsoever. It's about control people. Wake up and smell the coffee. We are under the Governments thumb and being placed under a microscope. Land of the free? I think not.

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brwnysbrb January 17 2014 at 9:57 AM

Right and we are all suppose to believe him! How would anyone know if Obama has stopped collecting data from our phones or computers? We don't know and I for one don't trust Obama

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trotinboot January 17 2014 at 9:58 AM

Well he expanded the patriot act way beyond what Bush did, after campaining against the patriot act. No doubt this will be more smoke and mirrors.

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mgh406 January 17 2014 at 9:58 AM

What he really desperately needs is a major overhaul of his administration and cabinet. It would also be beneficial if he would get an honest fact checker to screen all information before propagating misinformation to the "folks".

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ericmakkonen January 17 2014 at 10:00 AM

This whole NSA is a joke! What a great job they did stopping the marathon bombers,even after the Russian government gave them intel! Their track record seems pathetic so far! What we should be concentrating on is why are there so many cases of people lately going into public places and shooting innocent people! Something is wrong here,is it in our food supply,or even the water,or air waves? There never used to be such cases years ago.And it does'nt help when our kids are growing up with these realistic games that make it "cool" to blow away other people with guns.Think about it!!

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aainsser January 17 2014 at 10:01 AM

I have no trust in this man

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