Obama ordered the Justice Department and intelligence community to report back to him with options within 60 days. If they propose housing the data with the phone companies or a third party, congressional legislation would almost certainly be needed, raising questions about how quickly lawmakers could reach an agreement, if at all.
“I think the odds are long that we can get it done in a timely way,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., though he was largely supportive of the president’s proposals.
Under Obama’s plan, the government will no longer be able to gain access to phone records beyond two “hops” from the person they are targeting. That means the government can’t examine records for someone who called someone who called someone who called the suspect.
Privacy advocates said they were troubled that Obama’s proposals did not go further.
“He seems to endorse amending bulk data collection but not ending it,” said Anthony Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The president cast the changes as a pre-emptive attempt to curb possible government abuse as new technologies give intelligence agencies the ability to round up more information more quickly. But he said there was nothing in the White House review that “indicated that our intelligence community has sought to violate the law or is cavalier about the civil liberties of their fellow citizens.”
Obama mentioned Snowden and his disclosures in negative but measured language.
“The sensational way in which these disclosures have come out has often shed more heat than light, while revealing methods to our adversaries that could impact our operations in ways that we may not fully understand for years to come,” he said.
Anger with the U.S. after Snowden’s revelations has been particularly strong abroad, especially when it was revealed that the Americans were monitoring the communications of friendly foreign leaders such as Merkel and Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff. Obama said new guidelines will cut back on such monitoring, except when there is a compelling national security interest.