Full Text of Obama’s Speech on NSA Surveillance

Delivered at the Justice Department on Friday.

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Jan. 17, 2014, 6:23 a.m.

At the dawn of our Re­pub­lic, a small, secret sur­veil­lance com­mit­tee borne out of the “The Sons of Liberty” was es­tab­lished in Bo­ston. The group’s mem­bers in­cluded Paul Revere, and at night they would patrol the streets, re­port­ing back any signs that the Brit­ish were pre­par­ing raids against Amer­ica’s early Pat­ri­ots.

Throughout Amer­ic­an his­tory, in­tel­li­gence has helped se­cure our coun­try and our freedoms. In the Civil War, Uni­on bal­loon re­con­nais­sance tracked the size of Con­fed­er­ate armies by count­ing the num­ber of camp fires. In World War II, code-break­ing gave us in­sight in­to Ja­pan­ese war plans, and when Pat­ton marched across Europe, in­ter­cep­ted com­mu­nic­a­tions helped save the lives of his troops. After the war, the rise of the Iron Cur­tain and nuc­le­ar weapons only in­creased the need for sus­tained in­tel­li­gence-gath­er­ing. And so, in the early days of the Cold War, Pres­id­ent Tru­man cre­ated the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency to give us in­sight in­to the So­viet bloc, and provide our lead­ers with in­form­a­tion they needed to con­front ag­gres­sion and avert cata­strophe.

Throughout this evol­u­tion, we be­nefited from both our Con­sti­tu­tion and tra­di­tions of lim­ited gov­ern­ment. U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies were anchored in our sys­tem of checks and bal­ances ““ with over­sight from elec­ted lead­ers, and pro­tec­tions for or­din­ary cit­izens. Mean­while, to­tal­it­ari­an states like East Ger­many offered a cau­tion­ary tale of what could hap­pen when vast, un­checked sur­veil­lance turned cit­izens in­to in­form­ers, and per­se­cuted people for what they said in the pri­vacy of their own homes.

In fact even the United States proved not to be im­mune to the ab­use of sur­veil­lance. In the 1960s, gov­ern­ment spied on civil rights lead­ers and crit­ics of the Vi­et­nam War. Partly in re­sponse to these rev­el­a­tions, ad­di­tion­al laws were es­tab­lished in the 1970s to en­sure that our in­tel­li­gence cap­ab­il­it­ies could not be mis­used against our cit­izens. In the long, twi­light struggle against Com­mun­ism, we had been re­minded that the very liber­ties that we sought to pre­serve could not be sac­ri­ficed at the al­tar of na­tion­al se­cur­ity.

If the fall of the So­viet Uni­on left Amer­ica without a com­pet­ing su­per­power, emer­ging threats from ter­ror­ist groups, and the pro­lif­er­a­tion of weapons of mass de­struc­tion placed new ““ and, in some ways more com­plic­ated ““ de­mands on our in­tel­li­gence agen­cies. Glob­al­iz­a­tion and the In­ter­net made these threats more acute, as tech­no­logy erased bor­ders and em­powered in­di­vidu­als to pro­ject great vi­ol­ence, as well as great good. Moreover, these new threats raised new leg­al and policy ques­tions. For while few doubted the le­git­im­acy of spy­ing on hos­tile states, our frame­work of laws was not fully ad­ap­ted to pre­vent ter­ror­ist at­tacks by in­di­vidu­als act­ing on their own, or act­ing in small, ideo­lo­gic­ally driv­en groups rather than on be­half of a for­eign power. 

The hor­ror of Septem­ber 11th brought these is­sues to the fore. Across the polit­ic­al spec­trum, Amer­ic­ans re­cog­nized that we had to ad­apt to a world in which a bomb could be built in a base­ment, and our elec­tric grid could be shut down by op­er­at­ors an ocean away. We were shaken by the signs we had missed lead­ing up to the at­tacks ““ how the hi­jack­ers had made phone calls to known ex­trem­ists, and trav­elled to sus­pi­cious places. So we de­man­ded that our in­tel­li­gence com­munity im­prove its cap­ab­il­it­ies, and that law en­force­ment change prac­tices to fo­cus more on pre­vent­ing at­tacks be­fore they hap­pen than pro­sec­ut­ing ter­ror­ists after an at­tack. 

It is hard to over­state the trans­form­a­tion Amer­ica’s in­tel­li­gence com­munity had to go through after 9/11. Our agen­cies sud­denly needed to do far more than the tra­di­tion­al mis­sion of mon­it­or­ing hos­tile powers and gath­er­ing in­form­a­tion for poli­cy­makers ““ in­stead, they were asked to identi­fy and tar­get plot­ters in some of the most re­mote parts of the world, and to an­ti­cip­ate the ac­tions of net­works that, by their very nature, can­not be eas­ily pen­et­rated with spies or in­form­ants.

And it is a testi­mony to the hard work and ded­ic­a­tion of the men and wo­men in our in­tel­li­gence com­munity that over the past dec­ade, we made enorm­ous strides in ful­filling this mis­sion. Today, new cap­ab­il­it­ies al­low in­tel­li­gence agen­cies to track who a ter­ror­ist is in con­tact with, and fol­low the trail of his travel or fund­ing. New laws al­low in­form­a­tion to be col­lec­ted and shared more quickly between fed­er­al agen­cies, and state and loc­al law en­force­ment. Re­la­tion­ships with for­eign in­tel­li­gence ser­vices have ex­pan­ded, and our ca­pa­city to re­pel cy­ber-at­tacks has been strengthened. Taken to­geth­er, these ef­forts have pre­ven­ted mul­tiple at­tacks and saved in­no­cent lives ““ not just here in the United States, but around the globe as well.

And yet, in our rush to re­spond to very real and nov­el threats, the risks of gov­ern­ment over­reach ““ the pos­sib­il­ity that we lose some of our core liber­ties in pur­suit of se­cur­ity ““ be­came more pro­nounced. We saw, in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of 9/11, our gov­ern­ment en­gaged in en­hanced in­ter­rog­a­tion tech­niques that con­tra­dicted our val­ues. As a Sen­at­or, I was crit­ic­al of sev­er­al prac­tices, such as war­rant­less wireta­ps. And all too of­ten new au­thor­it­ies were in­sti­tuted without ad­equate pub­lic de­bate.

Through a com­bin­a­tion of ac­tion by the courts, in­creased con­gres­sion­al over­sight, and ad­just­ments by the pre­vi­ous Ad­min­is­tra­tion, some of the worst ex­cesses that emerged after 9/11 were curbed by the time I took of­fice. But a vari­ety of factors have con­tin­ued to com­plic­ate Amer­ica’s ef­forts to both de­fend our na­tion and up­hold our civil liber­ties.

First, the same tech­no­lo­gic­al ad­vances that al­low U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies to pin-point an al Qaeda cell in Ye­men or an email between two ter­ror­ists in the Sahel, also mean that many routine com­mu­nic­a­tions around the world are with­in our reach. At a time when more and more of our lives are di­git­al, that pro­spect is dis­quiet­ing for all of us.

Second, the com­bin­a­tion of in­creased di­git­al in­form­a­tion and power­ful su­per­com­puters of­fers in­tel­li­gence agen­cies the pos­sib­il­ity of sift­ing through massive amounts of bulk data to identi­fy pat­terns or pur­sue leads that may thwart im­pend­ing threats. But the gov­ern­ment col­lec­tion and stor­age of such bulk data also cre­ates a po­ten­tial for ab­use.

Third, the leg­al safe­guards that re­strict sur­veil­lance against U.S. per­sons without a war­rant do not ap­ply to for­eign per­sons over­seas. This is not unique to Amer­ica; few, if any, spy agen­cies around the world con­strain their activ­it­ies bey­ond their own bor­ders. And the whole point of in­tel­li­gence is to ob­tain in­form­a­tion that is not pub­licly avail­able. But Amer­ica’s cap­ab­il­it­ies are­u­nique. And the power of new tech­no­lo­gies means that 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.

Fi­nally, in­tel­li­gence agen­cies can­not func­tion without secrecy, which makes their work less sub­ject to pub­lic de­bate. Yet there is an in­ev­it­able bi­as not only with­in the in­tel­li­gence com­munity, but among all who are re­spons­ible for na­tion­al se­cur­ity, to col­lect more in­form­a­tion about the world, not less. So in the ab­sence of in­sti­tu­tion­al re­quire­ments for reg­u­lar de­bate ““ and over­sight that is pub­lic, as well as private ““ the danger of gov­ern­ment over­reach be­comes more acute. This is par­tic­u­larly true when sur­veil­lance tech­no­logy and our re­li­ance on di­git­al in­form­a­tion is evolving much faster than our laws.

For all these reas­ons, I main­tained a healthy skep­ti­cism to­ward our sur­veil­lance pro­grams after I be­came Pres­id­ent. I ordered that our pro­grams be re­viewed by my na­tion­al se­cur­ity team and our law­yers, and in some cases I ordered changes in how we did busi­ness. We in­creased over­sight and audit­ing, in­clud­ing new struc­tures aimed at com­pli­ance. Im­proved rules were pro­posed by the gov­ern­ment and ap­proved by the For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Court. And we sought to keep Con­gress con­tinu­ally up­dated on these activ­it­ies.

What I did not do is stop these pro­grams whole­sale ““ not only be­cause I felt that they made us more se­cure; but also be­cause noth­ing in that ini­tial re­view, and noth­ing that I have learned since, in­dic­ated that our in­tel­li­gence com­munity has sought to vi­ol­ate the law or is cava­lier about the civil liber­ties of their fel­low cit­izens. 

To the con­trary, in an ex­traordin­ar­ily dif­fi­cult job, one in which ac­tions are second-guessed, suc­cess is un­re­por­ted, and fail­ure can be cata­stroph­ic, the men and wo­men of the in­tel­li­gence com­munity, in­clud­ing the NSA, con­sist­ently fol­low pro­to­cols de­signed to pro­tect the pri­vacy of or­din­ary people. They are not ab­us­ing au­thor­it­ies in or­der to listen to your private phone calls, or read your emails. When mis­takes are made ““ which is in­ev­it­able in any large and com­plic­ated hu­man en­ter­prise ““ they cor­rect those mis­takes. La­bor­ing in ob­scur­ity, of­ten un­able to dis­cuss their work even with fam­ily and friends, they know that if an­oth­er 9/11 or massive cy­ber-at­tack oc­curs, they will be asked, by Con­gress and the me­dia, why they failed to con­nect the dots. What sus­tains those who work at NSA through all these pres­sures is the know­ledge that their pro­fes­sion­al­ism and ded­ic­a­tion play a cent­ral role in the de­fense of our na­tion.

To say that our in­tel­li­gence com­munity fol­lows the law, and is staffed by pat­ri­ots, is not to sug­gest that I, or oth­ers in my Ad­min­is­tra­tion, felt com­pla­cent about the po­ten­tial im­pact of these pro­grams. Those of us who hold of­fice in Amer­ica have a re­spons­ib­il­ity to our Con­sti­tu­tion, and while I was con­fid­ent in the in­teg­rity of those in our in­tel­li­gence com­munity, it was clear to me in ob­serving our in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tions on a reg­u­lar basis that changes in our tech­no­lo­gic­al cap­ab­il­it­ies were rais­ing new ques­tions about the pri­vacy safe­guards cur­rently in place. Moreover, after an ex­ten­ded re­view of our use of drones in the fight against ter­ror­ist net­works, I be­lieved a fresh ex­am­in­a­tion of our sur­veil­lance pro­grams was a ne­ces­sary next step in our ef­fort to get off the open ended war-foot­ing that we have main­tained since 9/11. For these reas­ons, I in­dic­ated in a speech at the Na­tion­al De­fense Uni­versity last May that we needed a more ro­bust pub­lic dis­cus­sion about the bal­ance between se­cur­ity and liberty. What I did not know at the time is that with­in weeks of my speech, an ava­lanche of un­au­thor­ized dis­clos­ures would spark con­tro­ver­sies at home and abroad that have con­tin­ued to this day.

Giv­en the fact of an open in­vest­ig­a­tion, I’m not go­ing to dwell on Mr. Snowden’s ac­tions or mo­tiv­a­tions. I will say that our na­tion’s de­fense de­pends in part on the fi­del­ity of those en­trus­ted with our na­tion’s secrets. If any in­di­vidu­al who ob­jects to gov­ern­ment policy can take it in their own hands to pub­licly dis­close clas­si­fied in­form­a­tion, then we will nev­er be able to keep our people safe, or con­duct for­eign policy. Moreover, the sen­sa­tion­al way in which these dis­clos­ures have come out has of­ten shed more heat than light, while re­veal­ing meth­ods to our ad­versar­ies that could im­pact our op­er­a­tions in ways that we may not fully un­der­stand for years to come.

Re­gard­less of how we got here, though, the task be­fore us now is great­er than simply re­pair­ing the dam­age done to our op­er­a­tions; or pre­vent­ing more dis­clos­ures from tak­ing place in the fu­ture. In­stead, we have to make some im­port­ant de­cisions about how to pro­tect ourselves and sus­tain our lead­er­ship in the world, while up­hold­ing the civil liber­ties and pri­vacy pro­tec­tions that our ideals ““ and our Con­sti­tu­tion ““ re­quire. We need to do so not only be­cause it is right, but be­cause the chal­lenges posed by threats like ter­ror­ism, pro­lif­er­a­tion, and cy­ber-at­tacks are not go­ing away any time soon, and for our in­tel­li­gence com­munity to be ef­fect­ive over the long haul, we must main­tain the trust of the Amer­ic­an people, and people around the world.

This ef­fort will not be com­pleted overnight, and giv­en the pace of tech­no­lo­gic­al change, we shouldn’t ex­pect this to be the last time Amer­ica has this de­bate. But I want the Amer­ic­an people to know that the work has be­gun. Over the last six months, I cre­ated an out­side Re­view Group on In­tel­li­gence and Com­mu­nic­a­tions Tech­no­lo­gies to make re­com­mend­a­tions for re­form. I’ve con­sul­ted with the Pri­vacy and Civil Liber­ties Over­sight Board. I’ve listened to for­eign part­ners, pri­vacy ad­voc­ates, and in­dustry lead­ers. My Ad­min­is­tra­tion has spent count­less hours con­sid­er­ing how to ap­proach in­tel­li­gence in this era of dif­fuse threats and tech­no­lo­gic­al re­volu­tion. And be­fore out­lining spe­cif­ic changes that I have ordered, let me make a few broad ob­ser­va­tions that have emerged from this pro­cess.

First, every­one who has looked at these prob­lems, in­clud­ing skep­tics of ex­ist­ing pro­grams, re­cog­nizes that we have real en­emies and threats, and that in­tel­li­gence serves a vi­tal role in con­front­ing them. We can­not pre­vent ter­ror­ist at­tacks or cy­ber-threats without some cap­ab­il­ity to pen­et­rate di­git­al com­mu­nic­a­tions ““ wheth­er it’s to un­ravel a ter­ror­ist plot; to in­ter­cept mal­ware that tar­gets a stock ex­change; to make sure air traffic con­trol sys­tems are not com­prom­ised; or to en­sure that hack­ers do not empty your bank ac­counts.

Moreover, we can­not uni­lat­er­ally dis­arm our in­tel­li­gence agen­cies. There is a reas­on why black­ber­ries and I-Phones are not al­lowed in the White House Situ­ation Room. We know that the in­tel­li­gence ser­vices of oth­er coun­tries ““ in­clud­ing some who feign sur­prise over the Snowden dis­clos­ures ““ are con­stantly prob­ing our gov­ern­ment and private sec­tor net­works, and ac­cel­er­at­ing pro­grams to listen to our con­ver­sa­tions, in­ter­cept our emails, or com­prom­ise our sys­tems. Mean­while, a num­ber of coun­tries, in­clud­ing some who have loudly cri­ti­cized the NSA, privately ac­know­ledge that Amer­ica has spe­cial re­spons­ib­il­it­ies as the world’s only su­per­power; that our in­tel­li­gence cap­ab­il­it­ies are crit­ic­al to meet­ing these re­spons­ib­il­it­ies; and that they them­selves have re­lied on the in­form­a­tion we ob­tain to pro­tect their own people.

Second, just as ar­dent civil liber­tari­ans re­cog­nize the need for ro­bust in­tel­li­gence cap­ab­il­it­ies, those with re­spons­ib­il­it­ies for our na­tion­al se­cur­ity read­ily ac­know­ledge the po­ten­tial for ab­use as in­tel­li­gence cap­ab­il­it­ies ad­vance, and more and more private in­form­a­tion is di­git­ized. After all, the folks at NSA and oth­er in­tel­li­gence agen­cies are our neigh­bors and our friends. They have elec­tron­ic bank and med­ic­al re­cords like every­one else. They have kids on Face­book and In­s­tagram, and they know, more than most of us, the vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies to pri­vacy that ex­ist in a world where trans­ac­tions are re­cor­ded; emails and text mes­sages are stored; and even our move­ments can be tracked through the GPS on our phones.

Third, there was a re­cog­ni­tion by all who par­ti­cip­ated in these re­views that the chal­lenges to our pri­vacy do not come from gov­ern­ment alone. Cor­por­a­tions of all shapes and sizes track what you buy, store and ana­lyze our data, and use it for com­mer­cial pur­poses; that’s how those tar­geted ads pop up on your com­puter or smart­phone. But all of us un­der­stand that the stand­ards for gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance must be high­er. 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. For his­tory has too many ex­amples when that trust has been breached. Our sys­tem of gov­ern­ment is built on the premise that our liberty can­not de­pend on the good in­ten­tions of those in power; it de­pends upon the law to con­strain those in power.

I make these ob­ser­va­tions to un­der­score that the ba­sic val­ues of most Amer­ic­ans when it comes to ques­tions of sur­veil­lance and pri­vacy con­verge far more than the crude char­ac­ter­iz­a­tions that have emerged over the last sev­er­al months. Those who are troubled by our ex­ist­ing pro­grams are not in­ter­ested in a re­peat of 9/11, and those who de­fend these pro­grams are not dis­missive of civil liber­ties. The chal­lenge is get­ting the de­tails right, and that’s not simple. In­deed, dur­ing the course of our re­view, I have of­ten re­minded my­self that I would not be where I am today were it not for the cour­age of dis­sid­ents, like Dr. King, who were spied on by their own gov­ern­ment; as a Pres­id­ent who looks at in­tel­li­gence every morn­ing, I also can’t help but be re­minded that Amer­ica must be vi­gil­ant in the face of threats. 

For­tu­nately, by fo­cus­ing on facts and spe­cif­ics rather than spec­u­la­tion and hy­po­thet­ic­als, this re­view pro­cess has giv­en me ““ and hope­fully the Amer­ic­an people ““ some clear dir­ec­tion for change. And today, I can an­nounce a series of con­crete and sub­stan­tial re­forms that my Ad­min­is­tra­tion in­tends to ad­opt ad­min­is­trat­ively or will seek to co­di­fy with Con­gress. 

First, I have ap­proved a new pres­id­en­tial dir­ect­ive for our sig­nals in­tel­li­gence activ­it­ies, at home and abroad. This guid­ance will strengthen ex­ec­ut­ive branch over­sight of our in­tel­li­gence activ­it­ies. It will en­sure that we take in­to ac­count our se­cur­ity re­quire­ments, but also our al­li­ances; our trade and in­vest­ment re­la­tion­ships, in­clud­ing the con­cerns of Amer­ica’s com­pan­ies; and our com­mit­ment to pri­vacy and ba­sic liber­ties. And we will re­view de­cisions about in­tel­li­gence pri­or­it­ies and sens­it­ive tar­gets on an an­nu­al basis, so that our ac­tions are reg­u­larly scru­tin­ized by my seni­or na­tion­al se­cur­ity team.

Second, we will re­form pro­grams and pro­ced­ures in place to provide great­er trans­par­ency to our sur­veil­lance activ­it­ies, and for­ti­fy the safe­guards that pro­tect the pri­vacy of U.S. per­sons. Since we began this re­view, in­clud­ing in­form­a­tion be­ing re­leased today, we have de­clas­si­fied over 40 opin­ions and or­ders of the For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Court, which provides ju­di­cial re­view of some of our most sens­it­ive in­tel­li­gence activ­it­ies ““ in­clud­ing the Sec­tion 702 pro­gram tar­get­ing for­eign in­di­vidu­als over­seas and the Sec­tion 215 tele­phone metadata pro­gram. Go­ing for­ward, I am dir­ect­ing the Dir­ect­or of Na­tion­al In­tel­li­gence, in con­sulta­tion with the At­tor­ney Gen­er­al, to an­nu­ally re­view ““ for the pur­pose of de­clas­si­fic­a­tion ““ any fu­ture opin­ions of the Court with broad pri­vacy im­plic­a­tions, and to re­port to me and Con­gress on these ef­forts. To en­sure that the Court hears a broad­er range of pri­vacy per­spect­ives, I am call­ing on Con­gress to au­thor­ize the es­tab­lish­ment of a pan­el of ad­voc­ates from out­side gov­ern­ment to provide an in­de­pend­ent voice in sig­ni­fic­ant cases be­fore the For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Court.

Third, we will provide ad­di­tion­al pro­tec­tions for activ­it­ies con­duc­ted un­der Sec­tion 702, which al­lows the gov­ern­ment to in­ter­cept the com­mu­nic­a­tions of for­eign tar­gets over­seas who have in­form­a­tion that’s im­port­ant for our na­tion­al se­cur­ity. Spe­cific­ally, I am ask­ing the At­tor­ney Gen­er­al and DNI to in­sti­tute re­forms that place ad­di­tion­al re­stric­tions on gov­ern­ment’s abil­ity to re­tain, search, and use in crim­in­al cases, com­mu­nic­a­tions between Amer­ic­ans and for­eign cit­izens in­cid­ent­ally col­lec­ted un­der Sec­tion 702.

Fourth, in in­vest­ig­at­ing threats, the FBI also re­lies on Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Let­ters, which can  re­quire com­pan­ies to provide spe­cif­ic and lim­ited in­form­a­tion to the gov­ern­ment without dis­clos­ing the or­ders to the sub­ject of the in­vest­ig­a­tion. These are cases in which it is im­port­ant that the sub­ject of the in­vest­ig­a­tion, such as a pos­sible ter­ror­ist or spy, isn’t tipped off. But we can ““ and should ““ be more trans­par­ent in how gov­ern­ment uses this au­thor­ity. I have there­fore dir­ec­ted the At­tor­ney Gen­er­al to amend how we use Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Let­ters so this secrecy will not be in­def­in­ite, and will ter­min­ate with­in a fixed time un­less the gov­ern­ment demon­strates a real need for fur­ther secrecy.  We will also en­able com­mu­nic­a­tions pro­viders to make pub­lic more in­form­a­tion than ever be­fore about the or­ders they have re­ceived to provide data to the gov­ern­ment.

This brings me to pro­gram that has gen­er­ated the most con­tro­versy these past few months ““ the bulk col­lec­tion of tele­phone re­cords un­der Sec­tion 215. Let me re­peat what I said when this story first broke ““ this pro­gram does not in­volve the con­tent of phone calls, or the names of people mak­ing calls. In­stead, it provides a re­cord of phone num­bers and the times and lengths of calls ““ meta-data that can be quer­ied if and when we have a reas­on­able sus­pi­cion that a par­tic­u­lar num­ber is linked to a ter­ror­ist or­gan­iz­a­tion.

Why is this ne­ces­sary? The pro­gram grew out of a de­sire to ad­dress a gap iden­ti­fied after 9/11. One of the 9/11 hi­jack­ers ““ Khal­id al-Mi­hd­har ““ made a phone call from San Diego to a known al Qaeda safe-house in Ye­men. NSA saw that call, but could not see that it was com­ing from an in­di­vidu­al already in the United States. The tele­phone metadata pro­gram un­der Sec­tion 215 was de­signed to map the com­mu­nic­a­tions of ter­ror­ists, so we can see who they may be in con­tact with as quickly as pos­sible. This cap­ab­il­ity could also prove valu­able in a crisis. For ex­ample, if a bomb goes off in one of our cit­ies and law en­force­ment is ra­cing to de­term­ine wheth­er a net­work is poised to con­duct ad­di­tion­al at­tacks, time is of the es­sence.  Be­ing able to quickly re­view tele­phone con­nec­tions to as­sess wheth­er a net­work ex­ists is crit­ic­al to that ef­fort.

In sum, the pro­gram does not in­volve the NSA ex­amin­ing the phone re­cords of or­din­ary Amer­ic­ans. Rather, it con­sol­id­ates these re­cords in­to a data­base that the gov­ern­ment can query if it has a spe­cif­ic lead ““ phone re­cords that the com­pan­ies already re­tain for busi­ness pur­poses. The Re­view Group turned up no in­dic­a­tion that this data­base has been in­ten­tion­ally ab­used. And I be­lieve it is im­port­ant that the cap­ab­il­ity that this pro­gram is de­signed to meet is pre­served.  

Hav­ing said that, I be­lieve crit­ics are right to point out that without prop­er safe­guards, this type of pro­gram could be used to yield more in­form­a­tion about our private lives, and open the door to more in­trus­ive, bulk col­lec­tion pro­grams. They also rightly point out that al­though the tele­phone bulk col­lec­tion pro­gram was sub­ject to over­sight by the For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Court and has been reau­thor­ized re­peatedly by Con­gress, it has nev­er been sub­ject to vig­or­ous pub­lic de­bate.

For all these reas­ons, I be­lieve we need 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.

This will not be simple. The Re­view Group re­com­men­ded that our cur­rent ap­proach be re­placed by one in which the pro­viders or a third party re­tain the bulk re­cords, with the gov­ern­ment ac­cess­ing in­form­a­tion as needed. Both of these op­tions pose dif­fi­cult prob­lems. Re­ly­ing solely on the re­cords of mul­tiple pro­viders, for ex­ample, could re­quire com­pan­ies to al­ter their pro­ced­ures in ways that raise new pri­vacy con­cerns. On the oth­er hand, any third party main­tain­ing a single, con­sol­id­ated data-base would be car­ry­ing out what is es­sen­tially a gov­ern­ment func­tion with more ex­pense, more leg­al am­bi­gu­ity, and a doubt­ful im­pact on pub­lic con­fid­ence that their pri­vacy is be­ing pro­tec­ted.

Dur­ing the re­view pro­cess, some sug­ges­ted that we may also be able to pre­serve the cap­ab­il­it­ies we need through a com­bin­a­tion of ex­ist­ing au­thor­it­ies, bet­ter in­form­a­tion shar­ing, and re­cent tech­no­lo­gic­al ad­vances. But more work needs to be done to de­term­ine ex­actly how this sys­tem might work.

Be­cause of the chal­lenges in­volved, I’ve ordered that the trans­ition away from the ex­ist­ing pro­gram will pro­ceed in two steps. Ef­fect­ive im­me­di­ately, we will only pur­sue phone calls that are two steps re­moved from a num­ber as­so­ci­ated with a ter­ror­ist or­gan­iz­a­tion in­stead of three. And I have dir­ec­ted the At­tor­ney Gen­er­al to work with the For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Court so that dur­ing this trans­ition peri­od, the data­base can be quer­ied only after a ju­di­cial find­ing, or in a true emer­gency.

Next, I have in­struc­ted the in­tel­li­gence com­munity and At­tor­ney Gen­er­al to use this trans­ition peri­od to de­vel­op op­tions for a new ap­proach that can match the cap­ab­il­it­ies and fill the gaps that the Sec­tion 215 pro­gram was de­signed to ad­dress without the gov­ern­ment hold­ing this meta-data. They will re­port back to me with op­tions for al­tern­at­ive ap­proaches be­fore the pro­gram comes up for reau­thor­iz­a­tion on March 28.  Dur­ing this peri­od, I will con­sult with the rel­ev­ant com­mit­tees in Con­gress to seek their views, and then seek con­gres­sion­al au­thor­iz­a­tion for the new pro­gram as needed. 

The re­forms I’m pro­pos­ing today should give the Amer­ic­an people great­er con­fid­ence that their rights are be­ing pro­tec­ted, even as our in­tel­li­gence and law en­force­ment agen­cies main­tain the tools they need to keep us safe. I re­cog­nize that there are ad­di­tion­al is­sues that re­quire fur­ther de­bate. For ex­ample, some who par­ti­cip­ated in our re­view, as well as some in Con­gress, would like to see more sweep­ing re­forms to the use of Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Let­ters, so that we have to go to a judge be­fore is­su­ing these re­quests. Here, I have con­cerns that we should not set a stand­ard for ter­ror­ism in­vest­ig­a­tions that is high­er than those in­volved in in­vest­ig­at­ing an or­din­ary crime. But I agree that great­er over­sight on the use of these let­ters may be ap­pro­pri­ate, and am pre­pared to work with Con­gress on this is­sue.  There are also those who would like to see dif­fer­ent changes to the FISA court than the ones I have pro­posed. On all of these is­sues, I am open to work­ing with Con­gress to en­sure that we build a broad con­sensus for how to move for­ward, and am con­fid­ent that we can shape an ap­proach that meets our se­cur­ity needs while up­hold­ing the civil liber­ties of every Amer­ic­an.

Let me now turn to the sep­ar­ate set of con­cerns that have been raised over­seas, and fo­cus on Amer­ica’s ap­proach to in­tel­li­gence col­lec­tion abroad. As I’ve in­dic­ated, the United States has unique re­spons­ib­il­it­ies when it comes to in­tel­li­gence col­lec­tion. Our cap­ab­il­it­ies help pro­tect not only our own na­tion, but our friends and al­lies as well. Our ef­forts will only be ef­fect­ive if or­din­ary cit­izens in oth­er coun­tries have con­fid­ence that the United States re­spects their pri­vacy too. And the lead­ers of our close friends and al­lies de­serve to know that if I want to learn what they think about an is­sue, I will pick up the phone and call them, rather than turn­ing to sur­veil­lance. In oth­er words, just as we bal­ance se­cur­ity and pri­vacy at home, our glob­al lead­er­ship de­mands that we bal­ance our se­cur­ity re­quire­ments against our need to main­tain trust and co­oper­a­tion among people and lead­ers around the world. 

For that reas­on, the new pres­id­en­tial dir­ect­ive that I have is­sued today will clearly pre­scribe what we do, and do not do, when it comes to our over­seas sur­veil­lance. To be­gin with, the dir­ect­ive makes clear that the United States only uses sig­nals in­tel­li­gence for le­git­im­ate na­tion­al se­cur­ity pur­poses, and not for the pur­pose of in­dis­crim­in­ately re­view­ing the emails or phone calls of or­din­ary people. I have also made it clear that the United States does not col­lect in­tel­li­gence to sup­press cri­ti­cism or dis­sent, nor do we col­lect in­tel­li­gence to dis­ad­vant­age people on the basis of their eth­ni­city, race, gender, sexu­al ori­ent­a­tion, or re­li­gious be­liefs. And we do not col­lect in­tel­li­gence to provide a com­pet­it­ive ad­vant­age to U.S. com­pan­ies, or U.S. com­mer­cial sec­tors.

In terms of our bulk col­lec­tion of sig­nals in­tel­li­gence, U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies will only use such data to meet spe­cif­ic se­cur­ity re­quire­ments: counter-in­tel­li­gence; counter-ter­ror­ism; counter-pro­lif­er­a­tion; cy­ber-se­cur­ity; force pro­tec­tion for our troops and al­lies; and com­bat­ing transna­tion­al crime, in­clud­ing sanc­tions eva­sion. Moreover, I have dir­ec­ted that we take the un­pre­ced­en­ted step of ex­tend­ing cer­tain pro­tec­tions that we have for the Amer­ic­an people to people over­seas. I have dir­ec­ted the DNI, in con­sulta­tion with the At­tor­ney Gen­er­al, to de­vel­op these safe­guards, which will lim­it the dur­a­tion that we can hold per­son­al in­form­a­tion, while also re­strict­ing the use of this in­form­a­tion.

The bot­tom line is that people around the world ““ re­gard­less of their na­tion­al­ity ““ should know that the United States is not spy­ing on or­din­ary people who don’t threaten our na­tion­al se­cur­ity, and that we take their pri­vacy con­cerns in­to ac­count. This ap­plies to for­eign lead­ers as well. Giv­en the un­der­stand­able at­ten­tion that this is­sue has re­ceived, I have made clear to the in­tel­li­gence com­munity that ““ un­less there is a com­pel­ling na­tion­al se­cur­ity pur­pose ““ we will not mon­it­or the com­mu­nic­a­tions of heads of state and gov­ern­ment of our close friends and al­lies. And I’ve in­struc­ted my na­tion­al se­cur­ity team, as well as the in­tel­li­gence com­munity, to work with for­eign coun­ter­parts to deep­en our co­ordin­a­tion and co­oper­a­tion in ways that re­build trust go­ing for­ward.

Now let me be clear: our in­tel­li­gence agen­cies will con­tin­ue to gath­er in­form­a­tion about the in­ten­tions of gov­ern­ments ““ as op­posed to or­din­ary cit­izens ““ around the world, in the same way that the in­tel­li­gence ser­vices of every oth­er na­tion does. We will not apo­lo­gize simply be­cause our ser­vices may be more ef­fect­ive. But heads of state and gov­ern­ment with whom we work closely, and on whose co­oper­a­tion we de­pend, should feel con­fid­ent that we are treat­ing them as real part­ners. The changes I’ve ordered do just that.

Fi­nally, to make sure that we fol­low through on these re­forms, I am mak­ing some im­port­ant changes to how our gov­ern­ment is or­gan­ized. The State De­part­ment will des­ig­nate a seni­or of­ficer to co­ordin­ate our dip­lomacy on is­sues re­lated to tech­no­logy and sig­nals in­tel­li­gence. We will ap­point a seni­or of­fi­cial at the White House to im­ple­ment the new pri­vacy safe­guards that I have an­nounced today. I will de­vote the re­sources to cent­ral­ize and im­prove the pro­cess we use to handle for­eign re­quests for leg­al as­sist­ance, keep­ing our high stand­ards for pri­vacy while help­ing for­eign part­ners fight crime and ter­ror­ism.

I have also asked my Coun­selor, John Podesta, to lead a com­pre­hens­ive re­view of big data and pri­vacy. This group will con­sist of gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials who — along with the Pres­id­ent’s Coun­cil of Ad­visors on Sci­ence and Tech­no­logy — will reach out to pri­vacy ex­perts, tech­no­lo­gists and busi­ness lead­ers, and look at how the chal­lenges in­her­ent in big data are be­ing  con­fron­ted by both the pub­lic and private sec­tors; wheth­er we can forge in­ter­na­tion­al norms on how to man­age this data; and how we can con­tin­ue to pro­mote the free flow of in­form­a­tion in ways that are con­sist­ent with both pri­vacy and se­cur­ity.  

For ul­ti­mately, what’s at stake in this de­bate goes far bey­ond a few months of head­lines, or passing ten­sions in our for­eign policy. When you cut through the noise, what’s really at stake is how we re­main true to who we are in a world that is re­mak­ing it­self at dizzy­ing speed. Wheth­er it’s the abil­ity of in­di­vidu­als to com­mu­nic­ate ideas; to ac­cess in­form­a­tion that would have once filled every great lib­rary in every coun­try in the world; or to forge bonds with people on oth­er sides of the globe, tech­no­logy is re­mak­ing what is pos­sible for in­di­vidu­als, for in­sti­tu­tions, and for the in­ter­na­tion­al or­der. So while the re­forms that I have an­nounced will point us in a new dir­ec­tion, I am mind­ful that more work will be needed in the fu­ture. 

One thing I’m cer­tain of: this de­bate will make us stronger. And I also know that in this time of change, the United States of Amer­ica will have to lead. It may seem some­times that Amer­ica is be­ing held to a dif­fer­ent stand­ard, and 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 pro­grams, or Rus­sia to take the pri­vacy con­cerns of cit­izens in­to ac­count. But let us re­mem­ber that we are held to a dif­fer­ent stand­ard pre­cisely be­cause we have been at the fore­front in de­fend­ing per­son­al pri­vacy and hu­man dig­nity.

As the na­tion that de­veloped the In­ter­net, the world ex­pects us to en­sure that the di­git­al re­volu­tion works as a tool for in­di­vidu­al em­power­ment rather than gov­ern­ment con­trol. Hav­ing faced down the to­tal­it­ari­an dangers of fas­cism and com­mun­ism, the world ex­pects us to stand up for the prin­ciple that every per­son has the right to think and write and form re­la­tion­ships freely ““ be­cause in­di­vidu­al free­dom is the well­spring of hu­man pro­gress.

Those val­ues make us who we are. And be­cause of the strength of our own demo­cracy, we should not shy away from high ex­pect­a­tions. For more than two cen­tur­ies, our Con­sti­tu­tion has weathered every type of change be­cause we have been will­ing to de­fend it, and be­cause we have been will­ing to ques­tion the ac­tions that have been taken in its de­fense. Today is no dif­fer­ent. To­geth­er, let us chart a way for­ward that se­cures the life of our na­tion, while pre­serving the liber­ties that make our na­tion worth fight­ing for. Thank you.  

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