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Obama to Unveil NSA Changes

Obama will outline a path forward on NSA reform on Friday, but just what changes he will make remains unclear.(JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

January 10, 2014

President Obama will unveil his plans for reforming the National Security Agency in a speech Jnan. 17, the White House announced.

The speech will come in the wake of a report issued last month by the president's review group calling for sweeping changes to the government's surveillance practices, including forcing the NSA to give up its database of records on all U.S. phone calls.

"We will not harm our national security," White House press secretary Jay Carney said last Friday, announcing the date of the speech, but providing no other details about its time or location.

 

When the leaks by Edward Snowden first revealed new details about the scope of NSA surveillance last year, Obama argued that no one's privacy rights were being violated and that any changes should be focused on improving trust in the NSA. But he has faced mounting pressure from civil-liberties groups, tech companies, and members of both parties for more-dramatic changes.

Obama discussed potential changes to the NSA with intelligence officials on Wednesday and key lawmakers on Thursday. White House staffers additionally met with privacy advocates on Thursday and are scheduled to meet with executives from tech companies on Friday.

The president could enact some changes through executive action, while other reforms will likely require congressional action.

In addition to changes to the NSA's phone-records database, other reforms could include creating a privacy advocate at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which currently hears arguments only from the government in favor of surveillance.

Obama could also announce changes to how the government handles the information of foreigners.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said after Thursday's sit-down with Obama that "the problem cannot be solved by presidential fiat." Sensenbrenner, the author of the post-9/11 USA Patriot Act, is pushing his Freedom Act, which would rein in the NSA's domestic-surveillance programs more tightly than what most observers expect the president will offer.

Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Mark Udall, D-Colo.—two of the NSA's most vocal critics—also met with Obama on Thursday. They along with Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., sent Obama a letter Friday urging for Obama to act swiftly and decisively to curtail the NSA's collection of domestic phone records and to reform the FISA court. All serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

"We believe you have the authority to make many of these changes now, and we urge you to do so with reasonable haste to protect both our national security and the personal rights and liberties of U.S. citizens," the senators wrote.

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