Obama: I Don't Want the NSA Holding Phone Data

This morning's speech calls for private entity to hold metadata

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted Jan 17, 2014 7:53 AM CST | Updated Jan 17, 2014 11:29 AM CST

(Newser) – President Obama today introduced a host of reforms to the NSA's surveillance programs, including ending the NSA's telephone metadata collection program "as it currently exists." In a speech today, Obama argued that the government shouldn't hold onto that phone data; he's asking Eric Holder, intelligence officials, and Congress to submit proposals on who should before the program comes up for review on March 28. In the meantime, he's issued an order requiring the NSA to get permission from the FISA court every time it wants to access its data, except in "a true emergency." Obama also called for other reforms including:

  • Establishing a panel of advocates from outside the government to argue cases before the FISA court.
  • Additional restrictions on the use of incidentally collected data on Americans.
  • More transparency about the government's use of national security letters, which will now become public eventually.
  • The NSA will now only look at phone calls up to two steps removed from a terrorist organization, as opposed to the current three.

"The reforms I'm proposing today should give the American people greater confidence that their rights are being protected," Obama said. "When you cut through the news, what's really at stake is how we remain true to who we are in a world that's remaking itself at dizzying speed." Obama said he often reminded himself of the debt he owed Martin Luther King Jr., who was spied on by the government. But the president also took pains to defend the need for surveillance in general, and vouch for the government's intentions. "After all, the folks at the NSA are our neighbors. They're our friends and family."

President Barack Obama talks about the NSA's phone data collection program, June 7, 2013, in San Jose, Calif.
President Barack Obama talks about the NSA's phone data collection program, June 7, 2013, in San Jose, Calif.   (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
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There are fewer and fewer technical constraints on what we can do. That places a special obligation on us to ask tough questions about what we should do. - Barack Obama

I'll admit the readiness of some to assume the worst motives by our government can be frustrating. No one expects China to have an open debate about their surveillance program. - Barack Obama

This is going much further than people thought. - An anonymous Obama official, to CNN

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