4 Big NSA Changes Obama Is Considering

New privacy rules could extend to non-citizens, for one
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 10, 2014 10:40 AM CST
4 Big NSA Changes Obama Is Considering
President Barack Obama speaks Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, in the East Room of the White House.   (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

With a presidential speech on NSA reforms coming as soon as next week, the Wall Street Journal has the inside track on President Obama's thinking. Changes could come as a combination of executive and legislative action. Among possible major changes to the way the agency works:

  • A review panel has recommended that, for the first time, non-US citizens gain privacy protections under the Privacy Act of 1974. President Obama appears to favor the idea, a top administration official tells the paper.
  • The panel is also calling for an overhaul of NSA phone record-gathering, suggesting that phone companies or a separate body collect the records instead of the agency itself. That idea is "absolutely being seriously considered," says the official. The panel would like to see court approval required for a search of those records.

  • The panel has urged a change to the FBI's secret "national security letters," which call for data without needing court approval; the panel wants that approval. Obama may alter the procedure, though FBI director James Comey has raised concerns.
  • As previously reported, a public advocate may be appointed for surveillance court arguments against government requests.
In recent days, Obama has met with a range of privacy advocates, intelligence officials, and lawmakers to discuss the reforms. Following a meeting with White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler, one government secrecy expert noted: "There was an implicit assurance that change is coming, even though its exact contours could not be disclosed." (More President Obama stories.)

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