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Obama announces 'concrete and substantial reforms' to NSA program

17 January 2014, 20:48

President Barack Obama is calling for major changes to the way the US intelligence community collects and stores information about people in the US and abroad, in the wake of disclosures that have sparked fury over sweeping government surveillance and stoked concerns about privacy.

Some of the changes will take effect immediately. Others will require further study and may take action by Congress to be implemented.

A look at some of the changes the president is proposing:

Phone records storage

Effective immediately, the National Security Agency will be required to get a secretive court's permission before accessing phone records that are collected from hundreds of millions of Americans.

Those records, which include numbers dialed and call lengths but not the content of calls, are currently stored by the government. But Obama is calling for that to change. He is directing the attorney general and the intelligence community to come up with a new plan for another party to store the data. Some of the proposals that have been floated previously include having phone companies or a new, third party store the data.

Also, the government will no longer be able to access phone records beyond two 'hops' from the person they are targeting. That means the government can't access records for someone who called someone who called someone who called the suspect.

National security letters

No longer will national security letters be kept secret indefinitely. Federal law enforcement officers issue these letters to banks, phone companies and others, demanding customer information, and the recipients are currently barred from disclosing that they've received the requests. Under Obama's proposal, the government must establish the need for those letters to remain secret. The White House says providers receiving the letters will be able to make more information about them available publicly than ever before.

One aspect that's not changing is the government's ability to issue the letters without seeking a court's approval.

Spying on leaders overseas

Revelations that the US monitored the communications of friendly heads of state have sparked outrage overseas. Going forward, the US won't monitor the communications of 'our close friends and allies overseas' unless there's a compelling national security purpose. But the White House isn't publicizing a list of which countries fall under that category, so there's little clarity about how that proposal will be implemented.

Spying on foreigners

Obama is issuing a presidential directive that outlines what the government uses intelligence for, and what purposes are prohibited. The directive says the government uses data for counterintelligence, counterterrorism and cybersecurity, to protect US forces and allies, and to combat weapons proliferation and transnational crime. The directive says intelligence can't be used to suppress criticism, to provide a competitive advantage to US companies, or to discriminate against people based on factors like race, gender or sexual orientation.

Obama is also proposing to extend to foreigners some protections against spying that US citizens enjoy. He's directing the director of national intelligence and the attorney general to develop safeguards dealing with how long the US can hold information on non-citizens overseas, and restrictions on how the data is used.

Privacy advocate

Obama called for a panel of outside advocates that can represent privacy and civil liberty concerns before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Those advocates would be present in for cases where the court is considering issues that are novel or significant - for instance, cases that raise a new issue the court hasn't dealt with previously.

This is one proposal that Obama cannot implement on his own. Because it involves another branch of government, Congress will have to act to change the way the court operates.

Personnel changes

Obama is directing the State Department to appoint a senior officer to coordinate diplomatic issues regarding technology and data-collection. At the White House, a senior official will be designated to carry out privacy safeguards. Obama also wants to centralize the process used to screen requests for US intelligence that come in from foreign governments. And Obama is asking a senior White House adviser, John Podesta, to lead a broad review of privacy 'big data' that will involve input from industry and privacy experts.

Greenwald regards Obama's speech on NSA surveillance as publicity stunt

President Obama's Friday speech on NSA surveillance is nothing more than a publicity stunt, journalist Glenn Greenwald, famous for numerous revelations about the NSA's spying activities and secrets which he obtained thanks to documents provided by former intelligence agency contractor Edward Snowden, has said ahead of the US President's much-anticipated speech.

"It's really just basically a PR gesture, a way to calm the public and to make them think there's reform when in reality there really won't be,' Greenwald said to Al Jazeera America, adding that with all the things the public now know about the NSA and its global surveillance program "they're going to need more than just a pretty speech from President Obama to feel as though their concerns have been addressed."

US: protests rage as Obama prepares to speak on NSA reform

US privacy campaigners protesting outside the Justice Department where President Barack is to give his speech on NSA reform on Friday. There are members of the StopWatchingUs movement and anti-war activists among the ones who doesn't trust Obama's policies.

Americans gathered at the Justice Department in Washington, DC for anti-NSA 'Stop Watching Us' rally where President Obama is to give his NSA reform speech.

Radical media reported that StopWatchingUS protest is taking place at the Justice Dept.

Earlier it was reported that anti-war group CODEPINK were planning on protesting outside of Obama's speech.

'Though President Obama is scheduled to lay out reforms for the NSA spying program, we have little reason to believe they will be sufficient of implemented,' co-founder Medea Benjamin said in a statement Thursday. 'The intelligence agencies in the US are totally out of control - from mass dragnet spying, to killing by remote control – and it's time for transparency and accountability.'

Voice of Russia, AP

Source: http://voiceofrussia.com/news/2014_01_17/ Obama-announces-concrete-and- substantial-reforms-to-NSA-program-8010/

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