Obama clips NSA's wings, bulk collection continues
By Stephen Collinson ,AFP
January 19, 2014, 12:05 am TWN
WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Barack Obama curtailed the reach of massive U.S. National Security Agency phone surveillance sweeps Friday, but said bulk data collection must go on to protect America from terrorists.
In a long-awaited speech designed to quell a furor over the programs exposed by Edward Snowden, Obama also said he had halted spy taps on friendly world leaders and proposed new shields for foreigners caught in U.S. data sweeps.
"Given the unique power of the state, it is not enough for leaders to say: trust us, we won't abuse the data we collect," Obama said at the U.S. Justice Department.
Obama's proposals represented a search for common ground between the intelligence community's resistance to reform and civil liberties advocates who view phone and Internet data trawling as a mass invasion of privacy.
They emerged from a prolonged period of reflection by the president and a comprehensive review of the national security apparatus that sprung up hurriedly after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.
But after charting new guidelines, the president left many of the details of proposed reforms either with Congress, top officials or the NSA itself.
"The power of new technologies means that there are fewer and fewer technical constraints on what we can do," Obama said.
"That places a special obligation on us to ask tough questions about what we should do."
It is doubtful however that the reassessment would have happened were it not for explosive disclosures by Snowden in one of the greatest security breaches in U.S. history.
Ending Current 'Metadata' Storage by NSA
In the most significant reform, the president committed to ending the NSA's hoarding of telephone "metadata" detailing the duration and destination of hundreds of millions of calls but not their content.
He did not believe that abuses had occurred or that U.S. spies had been "cavalier" about civil liberties.
But he called for a new approach.
"I am therefore ordering a transition that will end the Section 215 bulk metadata program as it currently exists, and establish a mechanism that preserves the capabilities we need without the government holding this bulk meta-data."
Obama called on Attorney General Eric Holder and the NSA to come up suggestions for an alternative way to hold the material within 60 days.
Possible alternatives include keeping records with reluctant telecommunications firms, which are currently compelled to turn it over to the NSA, or to deposit it with a third party.