Live Blog: Obama announces NSA changes

President Barack Obama announces sweeping changes to U.S. surveillance efforts exposed by intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, whose disclosures raised questions about government overreach in fighting terror. Follow this live blog for updates and analysis.

  • "Meanwhile, a number of countries, including some who have loudly criticized the NSA, privately acknowledge that America has special responsibilities as the world’s only superpower; that our intelligence capabilities are critical to meeting these responsibilities; and that they themselves have relied on the information we obtain to protect their own people. "
  • "Second, just as ardent civil libertarians recognize the need for robust intelligence capabilities, those with responsibilities for our national security readily acknowledge the potential for abuse as intelligence capabilities advance, and more and more private information is digitized."
  • Obama: Intelligence has helped us
  • "After all, the folks at NSA and other intelligence agencies are our neighbors and our friends and family. They have electronic bank and medical records like everyone else. They have kids on Facebook and Instagram, and they know, more than most of us, the vulnerabilities to privacy that exist in a world where transactions are recorded; emails and text messages are stored; and even our movements can be tracked through the GPS on our phones."
  • "Third, there was a recognition by all who participated in these reviews that the challenges to our privacy do not come from government alone. Corporations of all shapes and sizes track what you buy, store and analyze our data, and use it for commercial purposes; that’s how those targeted ads pop up on your computer or smartphone."
  • "But all of us understand that the standards for government surveillance must be higher. Given the unique power of the state, it is not enough for leaders to say: trust us, we won’t abuse the data we collect. For history has too many examples when that trust has been breached. Our system of government is built on the premise that our liberty cannot depend on the good intentions of those in power; it depends upon the law to constrain those in power."
  • little side-eye from POTUS to countries "who feign surprise over the Snowden disclosures" while trying to "listen to (US) conversations"
  • "I make these observations to underscore that the basic values of most Americans when it comes to questions of surveillance and privacy converge far more than the crude characterizations that have emerged over the last several months. Those who are troubled by our existing programs are not interested in a repeat of 9/11, and those who defend these programs are not dismissive of civil liberties. The challenge is getting the details right, and that’s not simple. Indeed, during the course of our review, I have often reminded myself that I would not be where I am today were it not for the courage of dissidents, like Dr. King, who were spied on by their own government; as a President, a President who looks at intelligence every morning, I also can’t help but be reminded that America must be vigilant in the face of threats."
  • Pres. Obama: The folks at the #NSA "have kids on Facebook and Instagram"
  • "Fortunately, by focusing on facts and specifics rather than speculation and hypotheticals, this review process has given me – and hopefully the American people – some clear direction for change. And today, I can announce a series of concrete and substantial reforms that my Administration intends to adopt administratively or will seek to codify with Congress."
  • "First, I have approved a new presidential directive for our signals intelligence activities, both at home and abroad. This guidance will strengthen executive branch oversight of our intelligence activities. It will ensure that we take into account our security requirements, but also our alliances; our trade and investment relationships, including the concerns of America’s companies; and our commitment to privacy and basic liberties. And we will review decisions about intelligence priorities and sensitive targets on an annual basis, so that our actions are regularly scrutinized by my senior national security team."
  • Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC), the group that launched the Edward Snowden Legal Defense Fund, reacted to Obama’s NSA speech, saying the President’s announcement would not have been possible without Snowden.

    "Obama's announcement today would not have been possible without Edward Snowden. He is a hero and a whistle-blower, and deserves clemency. The Director of National Intelligence tried to prevent today's reforms from being announced with lies. Americans overwhelmingly agree that James Clapper should be prosecuted for perjury after lying to Congress about government programs that are spying on the phone calls and emails of millions of ordinary citizens."
  • Second, we will reform programs and procedures in place to provide greater transparency to our surveillance activities, and fortify the safeguards that protect the privacy of U.S. persons. Since we began this review, including information being released today, we have declassified over 40 opinions and orders of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which provides judicial review of some of our most sensitive intelligence activities – including the Section 702 program targeting foreign individuals overseas and the Section 215 telephone metadata program."
  • "Going forward, I am directing the Director of National Intelligence, in consultation with the Attorney General, to annually review – for the purpose of declassification – any future opinions of the Court with broad privacy implications, and to report to me and to Congress on these efforts. To ensure that the Court hears a broader range of privacy perspectives, I am calling on Congress to authorize the establishment of a panel of advocates from outside government to provide an independent voice in significant cases before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court."
  • "Third, we will provide additional protections for activities conducted under Section 702, which allows the government to intercept the communications of foreign targets overseas who have information that’s important for our national security. Specifically, I am asking the Attorney General and DNI to institute reforms that place additional restrictions on government’s ability to retain, search, and use in criminal cases, communications between Americans and foreign citizens incidentally collected under Section 702."
  • "Fourth, in investigating threats, the FBI also relies on National Security Letters, which can require companies to provide specific and limited information to the government without disclosing the orders to the subject of the investigation. These are cases in which it's important that the subject of the investigation, such as a possible terrorist or spy, isn’t tipped off. But we can – and should – be more transparent in how government uses this authority."
  • Obama calls on Congress to name a panel of outside advocates to appear before federal surveillance court to represent privacy concerns.
  • POTUS reforms: 1) "new presidential directive for our signals intelligence activities... strengthen executive branch oversight"
  • "I have therefore directed the Attorney General to amend how we use National Security Letters so this secrecy will not be indefinite, so that it will terminate within a fixed time unless the government demonstrates a real need for further secrecy. We will also enable communications providers to make public more information than ever before about the orders that they have received to provide data to the government."
  • John Schindler, prof Naval War College & former NSA employee: 

  • "This brings me to program that has generated the most controversy these past few months – the bulk collection of telephone records under Section 215. Let me repeat what I said when this story first broke – this program does not involve the content of phone calls, or the names of people making calls. Instead, it provides a record of phone numbers and the times and lengths of calls – meta-data that can be queried if and when we have a reasonable suspicion that a particular number is linked to a terrorist organization."
  • FBI gets its way, PresO won't force judiical review of national security letters; but letters won't be secret forever as is now policy
  • "Why is this necessary? The program grew out of a desire to address a gap identified after 9/11. One of the 9/11 hijackers – Khalid al-Mihdhar – made a phone call from San Diego to a known al Qaeda safe-house in Yemen. NSA saw that call, but could not see that the call was coming from an individual already in the United States."
  • "The telephone metadata program under Section 215 was designed to map the communications of terrorists, so we can see who they may be in contact with as quickly as possible. This capability could also prove valuable in a crisis. For example, if a bomb goes off in one of our cities and law enforcement is racing to determine whether a network is poised to conduct additional attacks, time is of the essence. Being able to quickly review phone connections to assess whether a network exists is critical to that effort."
  • Liberal Prog Change Campaign Cmte: Obama's changes "would not have been possible without Edward Snowden. He is a hero and a whistle-blower."
  • "In sum, the program does not involve the NSA examining the phone records of ordinary Americans. Rather, it consolidates these records into a database that the government can query if it has a specific lead – a consolidation of phone records that the companies already retain for business purposes. The Review Group turned up no indication that this database has been intentionally abused. And I believe it is important that the capability that this program is designed to meet is preserved."
  • "Having said that, I believe critics are right to point out that without proper safeguards, this type of program could be used to yield more information about our private lives, and open the door to more intrusive, bulk collection programs in the future. They're also right to point out that although the telephone bulk collection program was subject to oversight by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and has been reauthorized repeatedly by Congress, it has never been subject to vigorous public debate."
  • "For all these reasons, I believe we need a new approach. I am therefore ordering a transition that will end the Section 215 bulk metadata program as it currently exists, and establish a mechanism that preserves the capabilities we need without the government holding this bulk meta-data."
  • Democratic Rep: Barbara Lee of California: 


  • "This will not be simple. The Review Group recommended that our current approach be replaced by one in which the providers or a third party retain the bulk records, with the government accessing information as needed. Both of these options pose difficult problems. Relying solely on the records of multiple providers, for example, could require companies to alter their procedures in ways that raise new privacy concerns. On the other hand, any third party maintaining a single, consolidated data-base would be carrying out what is essentially a government function but with more expense, more legal ambiguity, potentially less accountability, all of which would have a doubtful impact on public confidence that their privacy is being protected."
  • "During the review process, some suggested that we may also be able to preserve the capabilities we need through a combination of existing authorities, better information sharing, and recent technological advances. But more work needs to be done to determine exactly how this system might work."
  • Senator Rand Paul will be on CNN after the speech: 


  • "Because of the challenges involved, I’ve ordered that the transition away from the existing program will proceed in two steps. Effective immediately, we will only pursue phone calls that are two steps removed from a number associated with a terrorist organization instead of the current three. And I have directed the Attorney General to work with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court so that during this transition period, the database can be queried only after a judicial finding, or in the case of a true emergency."
  • "Next, step two, I have instructed the intelligence community and Attorney General to use this transition period to develop options for a new approach that can match the capabilities and fill the gaps that the Section 215 program was designed to address without the government holding this meta-data itself. They will report back to me with options for alternative approaches before the program comes up for reauthorization on March 28th. And during this period, I will consult with the relevant committees in Congress to seek their views, and then seek congressional authorization for the new program as needed."
  • "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. I recognize that there are additional issues that require further debate. For example, some who participated in our review, as well as some members of Congress, would like to see more sweeping reforms to the use of National Security Letters, so that we have to go to a judge each time before issuing these requests."
  • "Here, I have concerns that we should not set a standard for terrorism investigations that is higher than those involved in investigating an ordinary crime. But I agree that greater oversight on the use of these letters may be appropriate, and I'm prepared to work with Congress on this issue. There are also those who would like to see different changes to the FISA court than the ones I have proposed. On all of these issues, I am open to working with Congress to ensure that we build a broad consensus for how to move forward, and I'm confident that we can shape an approach that meets our security needs while upholding the civil liberties of every American."
  • CNN National Security Analyst Peter Bergen says the true story of 9/11 wasn't a failure to have enough intelligence data. Read the story: Would NSA surveillance have stopped 9/11 plot?
  • "Let me now turn to the separate set of concerns that have been raised overseas, and focus on America’s approach to intelligence collection abroad. As I’ve indicated, the United States has unique responsibilities when it comes to intelligence collection. Our capabilities help protect not only our own nation, but our friends and allies as well. But our efforts will only be effective if ordinary citizens in other countries have confidence that the United States respects their privacy too."
  • "And the leaders of our close friends and allies deserve to know that if I want to learn what they think about an issue, I will pick up the phone and call them, rather than turn to surveillance. In other words, just as we balance security and privacy at home, our global leadership demands that we balance our security requirements against our need to maintain trust and cooperation among people and leaders around the world."
  • "For that reason, the new presidential directive that I have issued today will clearly prescribe what we do, and do not do, when it comes to our overseas surveillance. To begin with, the directive makes clear that the United States only uses signals intelligence for legitimate national security purposes, and not for the purpose of indiscriminately reviewing the emails or phone calls of ordinary folks."
  • "I have also made it clear that the United States does not collect intelligence to suppress criticism or dissent, nor do we collect intelligence to disadvantage people on the basis of their ethnicity, or race, or gender, or sexual orientation, or religious beliefs. We do not collect intelligence to provide a competitive advantage to U.S. companies, or U.S. commercial sectors."
  • "In terms of our bulk collection of signals intelligence, U.S. intelligence agencies will only use such data to meet specific security requirements: counter-intelligence; counter-terrorism; counter-proliferation; cyber-security; force protection for our troops and allies; and combating transnational crime, including sanctions evasion."
  • From CNN's Carl Lavin: 

    How important is 9/11 – I count
    nine mentions:

    1. The horror of September 11th brought these issues to the fore.
    2. It is hard to overstate the transformation America’s intelligence community had to
      go through after 9/11.
    3. We saw, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, our government engaged in enhanced
      interrogation techniques that contradicted our values.
    4. some of the worst excesses that emerged after 9/11 were curbed by the time I took
      office.
    5. they know that if another 9/11 or massive cyber-attack occurs, they will be asked,
      by Congress and the media, why they failed to connect the dots.
    6. fresh examination of our surveillance programs was a necessary next step in our
      effort to get off the open ended war-footing that we have maintained since
      9/11.
    7. Those who are troubled by our existing programs are not interested in a repeat
      of 9/11,
    8. Why is this necessary? The program grew out of a desire to address a gap
      identified after 9/11.
    9. One of the 9/11 hijackers – Khalid al-Mihdhar – made a phone call from San
      Diego to a known al Qaeda safe-house in Yemen.

  • Obama says he will pick up phone to talk to foreign leaders instead of having NSA surveil them
  • "In this directive, I have taken the unprecedented step of extending certain protections that we have for the American people to people overseas. I have directed the DNI, in consultation with the Attorney General, to develop these safeguards, which will limit the duration that we can hold personal information, while also restricting the use of this information."
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