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Obama Vows To Reform NSA Metadata Collection

President Obama promised to reform when and how the NSA can use phone metadata, along with setting some limits on the agency's practices overseas.
Posted at 7:32 PM, Jan 17, 2014

President Obama has announced his plans to overhaul the National Security Agency's controversial surveillance program. During a speech Friday, the president defended the necessity of surveillance, while acknowledging the need for reform.

"The reforms I'm proposing today should give the American people greater confidence that their rights are being protected, even as our law enforcement agencies maintain the tools they need to keep us safe." (Via C-SPAN)

Obama's remarks come six months after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden first leaked information about the NSA's bulk collection of phone metadata, the first of many startling revelations about the agency's surveillance practices. (Via The Guardian)

Most of President Obama's proposed reforms concern this metadata collection program. Obama wants the NSA to obtain court approval before accessing the phone record database. He also wants the NSA to store that database in third-party hands, and he suggested some limits on how the NSA can use that data. The president also promised to introduce a panel of public advocates into the court approval process. (Via The White House)

Obama said he intends to end spying on friendly heads of state and significantly restrict spying on foreigners. The president faced international backlash after some embarrassing revelations last year showed the NSA had bugged the phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, among others. (Via The Telegraph)

The president's remarks were welcomed by some lawmakers who have been pushing for NSA reform. Colorado's Democratic Sen. Mark Udall told Politico"This was a milestone day. ... The bulk collection program is going to end as we know it. … That's a big deal."

But some of the president's biggest critics, such as Kentucky's Republican Sen. Rand Paul, were not satisfied with Obama's speech.

"I didn't hear any lessening of the spying on Americans or the collecting records of Americans. I heard, 'Trust me, I'm going to put some more safeguards in place, but I'm going to keep right on collecting every American's records.'" (Via CNN)

And Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who broke the Snowden story for The Guardian, called Obama's proposals "empty, cosmetic 'reforms' so as to placate public anger while leaving the system fundamentally unchanged. ... Today's speech should be seen as the first step, not the last, on the road to restoring privacy.​"

The first hard deadline Obama faces for reforming the NSA is March 28, when the agency's metadata program will be up for review.