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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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English January 17 2014 at 5:08 PM

Obama also promised, If you like your doctor, you can keep him, he promised, that he would get to the bottom of the Bengazi and those responsibile would be brougth to justice, and He would get tot he bottom of the IRS, and on and on. So why would anyone believe him today? Or anyday since all he does is give speeches. The majority of people have never supported, nor wanted the health care law, but he knows best. He is confussed that he is not a KIng. His comment I have a pen and well do these things as an executive order as opposed to following the constitution. He has no judgement, three of his cabinet appointments had no paid their taxes, Attorney General is a racist, he promoted a Pardon from President Clint of a real crook in return for a large contribution to the Clinton Library and a contribution to the democratic party for Hillary, he is unfit for his office. Our problem for 5 years has been jobs and he is still blocking the pipeline that would produce over 36,000 jobs. And we are suppose to believe him?

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What's Up GFine! January 17 2014 at 12:00 PM

I'm beginning to wonder if many who are leaving their comments here have a severe reading comprehension problem or are even reading the article in its entirety at all! Many are blaming Obama for this possible breach in the American peoples privacy when nothing is further from the truth! The focal point or problem here is on the NSA collecting metadata of phone records from foreigners and possibly the American people. Obama is proposing the overall or fix for this problem. He's trying to create a balance between the privacy of the American people and the security of our nation from terrorist! He didn't create the initial problem here you dumb asses! I'm sick and tired of people twisting things around or completely misunderstanding what the hell is really going on here! Unfortunately, they'll always be stupid people on the planet and they're the real problem to resolving anything, because they continue to perpetuate everything wrong with our nation and in fact our planet. They never have solutions but continue to create problems with their dim-witted thinking! Just read the comments here and you'll be able to clearly and easily pick out these morons who probably only have a third grade reading level or less.

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Carolyn January 17 2014 at 11:58 AM

Why is no one trying to get the Agenda 21 off the table. Both parties are agreeing with and keep implementing this worldly universal agreement that is totally against everything Americas' citizens have agreed too and was approved by a group of pp that meet once a year and is for their benefit not the benefit of separate countries but a world governance. Security??? NSA collecting all communication in hopes they can make country more secure??? Open borders that allow all people into the US without knowledge of who they are and if they come and are stopped allowing them full access and not returning them to their own countries, Visa overstays and approval that they can do that. There is a motive here that is being overlooked by the collection of all these communications and I dont believe it is security.

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pftaylor January 17 2014 at 11:54 AM

A trigger to the fact that Obama is lieing is his bottom lip puffing out. Watch him speak and you will see what I mean. He puffed it out when he said we can keep our Dr. if we wanted.

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English January 17 2014 at 5:10 PM

That could be true, but the real test is if his mouth is moving, he is lieing

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cpenrod January 17 2014 at 11:51 AM

Obama and his commie Administration is the greatest threat to national security and American citizens.

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smfstiffy January 17 2014 at 11:44 AM

"I have one word for you ,Drones you will never here them coming" "oh you think I am kidding?"
That was the last time this POTUS told the truth. At some point people have to realize that
If "O" is supposed to be from the opposite party as bush" WHY does he continue and greatly expand ALL of the policies? Answer?When asked, both lefty CA. sen Fienstien and righty
Mc Cain agreed that "NSA policies are neccasary for national security" What? Both enemies agree? Alos if nat . security was so im portant WHY are we negotiating and customs arbitration powers to other countries with the "secret" TPP? I mean why worry about internal attacks by
so called bad groups when the actul leaders are giving US sovereign powers away?

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bigdeal357s1 January 17 2014 at 11:44 AM

Most Americans are stupid and extremely gullible, as is demonstrated by the moronic comments that hurt my eyes daily on AOL news!

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neutralslamm January 17 2014 at 11:50 AM

Then you should really stop reading your posts if they hurt your eyes..............

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lr27048 January 17 2014 at 11:42 AM

Foreigh countries spy on each other all the time. If these complaining countries had the technology they would be spying. US citizens need transparency in the NSA. Everything they do or see and information they collect must be available to the subject unless their actions discover a serious issue. They must be subject to the sunshine law like everyone else. This will correct the shenanigans and require reasonable suspicion before a search for evidence leading probable cause. However, a brainless or discrete call from a nosy neighbor could be a problem, unless these calls are thoroughly and properly investigated first. A false or malicious report to any Federal agency is a Felony, 5 years and a heavy fine.

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fsaufleyudt January 17 2014 at 11:39 AM

Obama changing an intelligence agency is almost an oxymoron.

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bigdeal357s1 January 17 2014 at 11:38 AM

Americans are also duped into believing they vote in their presidents and they live in a democracy. Biggest deception of the century!

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neutralslamm January 17 2014 at 11:43 AM

We don't live under a democracy, it's a REPRESENTATIVE REPUBLIC. Dimwit, how in the hell can we take seriously anything you say when you don't even know the type of govt. Americans reside under?

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English January 17 2014 at 5:12 PM

Reoresentative? are you kidding

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