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Obama says plan will end NSA bulk data sweep

WASHINGTON--U.S. President Barack Obama put forward a long-awaited plan Thursday to end the U.S. government's bulk collection of telephone records, aiming to defuse a controversy over surveillance on millions of Americans.

Responding to a global outcry over the National Security Agency's extensive eavesdropping programs, Obama's plan would require telephone companies to hold data for the same length of time they currently do, with government agencies allowed to access it with court approval.

The formal announcement represents the president's proposals to reform procedures at the NSA, which was rocked by disclosures about its activities in documents leaked by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

“I have decided that the best path forward is that the government should not collect or hold this data in bulk,” Obama said in a White House statement.

Obama said his plan, which needs congressional approval, would tread a line that allows the government to conduct surveillance to thwart terror attacks while also addressing the public's privacy concerns.

But civil liberties groups said the president's proposals on data collection failed to answer key details and they were skeptical if substantive changes would occur.

'Emergency' Exceptions

The White House said the NSA would need a court order to access the data, except in “an emergency situation” it did not define.

In those circumstances, the court would be asked to approve requests based on specific telephone numbers “based on national security concerns,” it added.

“This approach will best ensure that we have the information we need to meet our intelligence needs while enhancing public confidence in the manner in which the information is collected and held,” Obama said.

Because the new plan would not be in place by a March 28 expiration date, the president said he would seek a 90-day reauthorization of the existing program from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, with some modifications he ordered in January.

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