Obama to Unveil NSA Changes

US President Barack Obama talks to members of the military and their families during a Christmas dinner in Anderson Hall at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, on December 25, 2013. The first family is in Hawaii for their annual holiday vacation. 
National Journal
Brendan Sasso Dustin Volz
Jan. 10, 2014, 9:15 a.m.

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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