Barack Obama bans spying on leaders of US allies, scales back NSA program

Jan 18 2014, 13:12 IST
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In a nod to privacy advocates, the US government will not hold the bulk telephone metadata. (Reuters) In a nod to privacy advocates, the US government will not hold the bulk telephone metadata. (Reuters)
SummaryObama took steps to reassure Americans & foreigners alike that US will take into account privacy concerns.

he was going too far in reining in essential spying programs.

"While we will need much more detail on the president's new policies before passing final judgment, I am concerned that some of his proposals go too far, limiting our ability to protect the nation with little benefit to civil liberties of Americans," said Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee.

One of the biggest changes will be an overhaul of the government's handling of bulk telephone "metadata" - lists of million of phone calls made by Americans that show which numbers were called and when. Obama said the program as it currently exists will end.

In a nod to privacy advocates, the government will not hold the bulk telephone metadata, a decision that could frustrate some intelligence officials.

A presidential advisory panel had recommended that the data be controlled by a third party such as the telephone companies, but Obama did not propose who should store the phone information in the future.

He asked Attorney General Eric Holder and the intelligence community to report back to him before the metadata program comes up for reauthorization on March 28 on how to preserve the necessary capabilities of the program, without the government holding the metadata.

In addition, Obama said the U.S. the government will need a judicial review by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court every time intelligence agencies want to check the database of millions of telephone calls, unless there is a true emergency.

"The biggest deal is going to the court each time," said retired General Michael Hayden, a former director of both the NSA and the Central Intelligence Agency.


The usefulness of keeping metadata phone records has been questioned by a review panel appointed by Obama. It found that while the program had produced some leads for counter-terrorism investigators, such information had not proven decisive in a single case.

Among a list of reforms, Obama called on Congress to establish an outside panel of privacy advocates for the FISA Court that considers terrorism cases. The former chief judge of the FISA court had opposed such a step.

Members of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence called for more restraint on the NSA.

"In particular, we will work to close the 'back-door searches' loophole and ensure that the government does not read Americans' emails or other communications without a warrant," Senators Ron Wyden, Mark Udall and Martin Heinrich said in a joint statement.

Obama made clear that

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