Public Advocate Likely to Join Secret Spy Court Obama expected to approve change in wake of NSA revelations By John Johnson, Newser Staff Posted Jan 4, 2014 12:37 PM CST 27 comments Comments President Obama speaks during a news conference in the East Room at the White House. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) (Newser) – President Obama will lay out changes to the nation's surveillance practices later this month, and the Los Angeles Times reports that it's likely he will accept a key recommendation from a presidential panel on the topic: He will appoint what amounts to a public advocate to argue against the government's requests before the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. As it stands now, the court hears only from government lawyers seeking additional surveillance power, and those requests get approved nearly 100% of the time. The public advocate will theoretically act as a check on that. Unclear is whether Obama will change how the court's judges are picked; all are currently appointed by the chief justice of the Supreme Court, and the panel recommended opening that up to other justices. The LAT story also thinks that the president will "probably" shift control of the NSA's massive database of telephone data from the government into private hands, perhaps the telephone companies themselves. The government could get access to it only with a judge's permission. One change that looks unlikely: a proposal to make it more difficult for the FBI to issue so-called "national security letters," which force telecom and financial companies to hand over customer data without a warrant. "There is concern that this proposal makes it more cumbersome to investigate a terrorist than it does a criminal," says a White House official. Expect to hear Obama's final decision on these and other recommendations in the days before the Jan. 28 State of the Union.