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January 18, 2014

Obama tightens reins on NSA surveillance programs

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

“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,” he said during a speech at the Justice Department.

Privacy advocates, who have pushed for ending the phone record collections altogether, criticized the president’s restrictions as insufficient. The intelligence community appeared publicly content with his plans.

On Capitol Hill, the response was decidedly mixed. A rare cross-section of lawmakers from both parties, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., called for greater reforms. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, blamed the president for failing in the past to properly explain the importance of certain intelligence gathering practices.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., who head their chambers’ intelligence committees, called on the president to send them specific legislation with his proposed changes.

Obama’s announcement capped a six-month White House review triggered by Snowden’s flood of disclosures about the scope of U.S. spying. But by ordering further review of key issues, Obama ensured that his speech would hardly be the final word in the resurgent debate over balancing privacy and security.

The most glaring omission in Obama’s announcement was any recommendation on where Americans’ phone records should be kept if they are no longer housed by the government. A presidential review board recommended moving the data to the phone providers or a third party, but both options present obstacles. The phone companies strongly oppose the expense and potential liability of holding the data, and no credible third party option has emerged. Administration officials also raised the possibility of replacing the bulk phone collection program with new surveillance methods that would negate the need to store the data long-term.

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