Obama defends NSA, but announces changes to data collection

Posted on: 1:13 pm, January 17, 2014, by , updated on: 03:09pm, January 17, 2014

(CNN) — President Barack Obama on Friday defended the the “vital role” that intelligence-gathering plays in the nation’s security, as he nonetheless announced changes aimed at increasing transparency and protecting privacy and civil liberties.

Presidential guidance released as Obama spoke at the Justice Department said the government will not collect intelligence “for the purpose of suppressing or burdening criticism or dissent, or for disadvantaging persons based on their ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion.”

He illustrated the nexus of intelligence and security, recalling events in American history going back to Paul Revere’s famous ride.


CLICK HERE: Anti-NSA activists don’t like Obama speech

Obama said that “a variety of factors have continued to complicate America’s efforts to both defend our nation and uphold our civil liberties,” citing technological advances that allow supercomputers to gather huge amounts of digital data as a reason for needing to reform U.S. surveillance programs.

The reforms that Obama announced will end the controversial National Security Agency telephone bulk collection program as it currently exists, officials said.

Intelligence analysts will now need court approval to go into phone records routinely stored by the NSA, a change resulting from concerns raised by classified leaks last year by former agency contractor Edward Snowden that revealed the government’s collection of phone “metadata.”

No evidence of abuse has been found involving surveillance programs, but changes are needed in response to legitimate privacy concerns that have been raised, Obama said.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told CNN on Friday that “we heard a lot of lies” in President Barack Obama’s speech announcing government surveillance reforms.

Assange disputed Obama’s contention that the National Security Agency has never abused its authority and dismissed the President’s assurances that the United States would not snoop on foreign leaders.

“You don’t spy on them, you just spy on everyone else they talk to,” Assange said.

The President remained critical of Snowden, who is now living under asylum in Russia following his series of leaks that began last June and transformed the debate on national security surveillance in the post 9/11 era.

“Our nation’s defense depends in part on the fidelity of those entrusted with our nation’s secrets,” Obama said. “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.”

 Assange told CNN  that Snowden would respond — possibly early next week — to Obama’s announced U.S. surveillance reforms.

“I’m not sure if he’s watching, but he’s following the matter quite closely,” Assange said.

Obama also called on Congress to authorize establishment of a new panel of outside advocates to participate in “significant cases” before the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that handles intelligence collection issues.

The Senate Foreign Relations Comm. will hear testimony from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her long-awaited testimony on Wednesday, January 23, 2013 in Washington, about the deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.

READ NOW: GOP turns new fire on Clinton after Benghazi report

He also said that the United States “is not spying on ordinary people who don’t threaten our national security” and added 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.”

The scope of phone and e-mail snooping by NSA revealed by Snowden triggered outrage from civil libertarians and prompted key members of Congress from both parties to weigh changes in national security law.

Nothing in his administration’s initial review of U.S. intelligence operations 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,” Obama said.

While the bulk telephone data remains with the NSA for now, Obama wants those records moved out of government hands, though it is uncertain where, a senior administration official said.

Changes imposed by the President will permanently place his signature on the intelligence initiative and help define his legacy as a chief executive who promised a more open and transparent government when he entered the White House five years ago.

NSA domestic and international phone and e-mail surveillance is considered some of the most widespread intelligence gathering performed by the U.S. government.

The agency and its supporters believe data collection authority is crucial to discovering potential terrorists who haven’t yet come to the attention of national security officials.

But critics say it violates privacy rights of Americans whose data is collected even though there is no suspicion that they pose a security threat.

Federal courts are divided on NSA telephone data collection. One judge in Washington ruled preliminarily in December that it was probably unconstitutional on privacy grounds. A second judge ruling in another case in New York subsequently found it lawful.

The top-secret the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees the legal aspects of surveillance, earlier this month reauthorized the program for another three months.

The program is covered under Section 215 of the Patriot Act and has been authorized 36 times over the past seven years.

In summary, here’s what it all meant:

1. The public will get a voice before the secret intelligence court — sort of

The way things work now at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the government asks a judge in secret for permission to collect, say, phone records. No one gets to argue the other side.

Obama said he wants to open the court’s doors to advocates from outside the government who can “provide an independent voice in significant cases.”

The idea is to make sure outside voices have a say — voices that might not always buy into the intelligence community’s arguments, but who knows what that panel will end up looking like.

2. New limits on telephone records

If you’ve been paying attention the last few months, you know the National Security Agency has been slurping up details on millions of phone calls placed in the United States. The agency isn’t recording the actual conversation – they’re after stuff like the phone numbers involved and the time and length of each call.

That won’t end, exactly, but Obama says big changes are coming. First, fewer calls will be cataloged. And analysts will now have to get a judge’s approval to dip into the records. Later, the government will stop collecting and storing those records. Where they’ll go is still up in the air, though.

3. Super-secret “we want your stuff” letters are changing

Remember the movie, “Fight Club?” Remember the line, “First rule of fight club is you do not talk about Fight Club?” Well, the government has something like that called the National Security Letter program. It requires tech companies to cough up info about suspected terrorists and others without so much as a peep.

Obama wants to change it so those letters don’t always stay secret. He also wants to give tech companies more latitude to reveal information about what the government asks for. He didn’t say exactly what they’ll be able to reveal, but at least maybe they’ll be able to finally acknowledge “Security Club.”

4. People living outside the U.S. get some love, too

Revelations sparked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s leaks didn’t just rile up Americans. We learned the United States had been monitoring leaders of some of its allies, such as Germany. The U.S. also doesn’t extend the kind of privacy protections to your everyday Italian or Peruvian living outside the United States.

So Obama says the U.S. will take what he calls the “unprecedented step” of developing some privacy safeguards for citizens of other nations living abroad. That might include limits on how long the U.S. keeps personal information and taking steps to make sure it’s used only in very limited circumstances.


  • james anderson says:

    Who believes except for leftists anything this fascist says.

    • Dave Pierce says:

      Let’s check out the I didn’t know like fast and furious, IRS targeting conservative groups and individuals, Or the murder of four Americans in bengazi, or the NSA spying on us citizens or you can keep your health insurance and there no new taxes let’s face it this president has lost all creditability he’s either grossly uniformed, incompetent or a liar and most likely all three.

  • Robert Muir says:

    “When the representative body have lost the confidence of their constituents, when they have notoriously made sale of their most valuable rights, when they have assumed to themselves powers which the people never put into their hands, then indeed their continuing in office becomes dangerous to the state, and calls for an exercise of the power of dissolution.”

  • dwstick says:

    I wonder how long it will be before ABCCBSNBCCNNPBSMSNBC comes out with a poll, asking Americans if they believe Obama when he says that he didn’t know anything about these NSA abuses? Or whether they believed him when he said he didn’t know anything about the IRS targeting scandal until he’d read about it in his morning paper? Or when he didn’t know anything about the events in Benghazi? Or any of the other scandals surrounding his administration?
    There are two possible answers:
    1. Never
    2. When pigs fly
    Yet, they sure didn’t waste any time asking Americans if they believed Chris Christie, did they?!

  • Dewey says:

    Was this article written for you by the WhiteHouse?

  • John Doe says:

    End the NSA, end the attack on our free republic.

  • margielyle says:

    “Julian Assange told CNN on Friday that “we heard a lot of lies”

    Of course we heard lies; Obama was talking.

  • Peter Kuck says:

    Why should we believe this administration at all? It has been all lies all the time,

  • Obama - President of the NSA says:

    The Obama administration is about as legitimate as the Fullerton, CA police department.

    • joey says:

      The Fullerton, CA police department? Are you sure you got the right city and state? I LIVE in fullerton and it is in one of the SAFEST areas in Orange county, besides Anaheim, Tustin, and Irvine.

  • Roger says:

    I wonder how many people believe what he is saying? Rumor has it that he has lost all creditability, can’t imagine why.

  • Jerry says:

    You are just dreaming if you think anyone but you is going to end it. And guess what, voting is not going to help you do it.

  • RTC says:

    …. our National Defense also depends on the integrity of the PRESIDENT ….. something that is very much in doubt!

  • john says:

    Just because Obama said it is changed does not change it without congress writing a law or amending the existing law. NSA should not even be allowed to collect anything without a court order in open court. General numbers,e-mails,or text msg should not be allowed to gather without specific court order for that particular. number not just general numbers.

  • SomeonePayingAttention says:

    “Obama … said the government will not collect intelligence “for the purpose of suppressing or burdening criticism or dissent”.

    This comment from the man that said “if you like your healthcare plan you can keep it”, and from the administration that said “we have to pass the bill so that we can.. uuhh… see what’s in it”.

  • Jaswerl says:

    What if an &$$hole like Christie, with a penchant for retribution got hold of the reigns of power?

    • Grok says:

      You mean he might use the IRS to suppress enemies? Or the State Department to cover up his negligence? Or the Department of Justice to prosecute his enemies while ignoring his own crimes? Or dismiss military generals for the crime of not agreeing with his failed strategies? Or use his free access to a complacent media to demonize his opponents everywhere?

      That would be terrible.

  • caligula says:

    —-He [Obama] illustrated the nexus of intelligence and security, recalling events in American history going back to Paul Revere’s famous ride.—–

    Paul Revere was working FOR the Americans. Not AGAINST them, like you, you miserable piece of s**t.

  • Buck Wheat says:

    Every time this Marxist Pot Head opens his mouth you can count on one thing, it’s a total lie coming out. Keep drinking the Purple Kool-Aid people, yeah and remember the spy’s are our neighbors.

  • joey says:

    Obama has committed war crimes, and you worry about a bridge scandal? You HAVE to be some kind of uninformed voter. How’s your president doing these days? Do you like your health care, REALLY?

  • Proudly Unaffiliated says:

    If you like your privacy, you can keep your privacy. Period. End of story.

  • FreedomFan says:

    Obama would never ever discriminate against you… unless your complexion is lighter…

  • JC says:

    I can’t believe the Pole has 1.98% yes votes LOL!

  • Grok says:

    Apparently, Obama does not agree with most progressives about protecting whistleblowers. So the Washington Post, New York Times, Daniel Ellsberg, and all the rest are guilty of treason in Obama’s view? Let’s just say he ought to take another look at the Bill of Rights?

    • Barry Hussein says:

      “Progressives” are regressive, greedy totalitarians. Nothing at all progressive about these greedy leftists.

  • dkumor says:

    “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.”

  • tcole says:

    no mas’ pantalonies

  • Barry Hussein says:

    Odumbass also said we could keep our health plans and doctors.

    Odumbass is a LIAR.

  • WilliamPenn says:

    Once you understand Obama is a third-generation America-hating communist, everything he does makes perfect sense.

  • NEVER expect a democrat to tell the truth.

  • John Gault says:

    “The agency isn’t recording the actual conversation – they’re after stuff like the phone numbers involved and the time and length of each call.”

    Uh, yes they are storing your phone calls in a database for later retrieval if they they feel like it. Every text message, every web search, every email you send is also stored in those super computers in Utah. Especially if you use Google, Yahoo, or Outlook.

  • X says:

    Impeach Obama before the country is totally destroyed.

  • Robo says:

    Nothing has changed or will change.
    We sold our liberty for security(?).
    This all started with the knee jerk reaction of Congress by passing the Patriot Act.
    Not an Obama issue, our Congress has gone along with this nonsense since day 1.
    THe NSA is nothing more than a security apparatus much like the secret Police in Russia and the former East Germany.

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