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Decision of NSA data collection programs may be near

Jan. 9, 2014 at 5:02 PM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, Jan. 9 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama Thursday met with 16 members of Congress to discuss oversight of National Security Administration surveillance programs.

Obama met with Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board members Wednesday, the White House said. The board members -- responsible for advising the president and other senior executive branch officials on privacy and civil liberties concerns -- also talked about operations of the secret court overseeing surveillance.

"These meetings are an opportunity for the president to hear from key stakeholders as we near the end of our review," said White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden.

At his White House briefing, press secretary Jay Carney said the president has not yet set a date for his speech on the review of NSA data collection programs but "it will happen before the State of the Union address on Jan. 28."

After former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed the extent of NSA phone surveillance last summer, Obama committed the administration to seek reforms. He could change the agency's bulk collection of phone and Internet records by executive order.

Privacy advocates from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute and the Cato Institute think tank were to meet separately Thursday with White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler, officials said.

The meetings are part of a broad review by Obama and other White House officials of 46 wide-ranging recommendations by a task force Obama assembled to assess the nation's surveillance and intelligence-gathering activities.

The panel's Dec. 18 recommendations include revamping the NSA's phone-records collection program, as well as the process of foreign spying.

The group further recommends the administration consider informal arrangements with close allies to govern spying on each other's citizens.

The report would also end the NSA's bulk collection of phone records and instead force it to do focused searches of data held elsewhere. It additionally recommends making the NSA director a Senate-confirmed post and creating a "public advocate" to argue against the government's case in the secret U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Obama promised last month to lay out his intelligence and surveillance reforms this month. Hayden says Obama will make his remarks before he delivers his State of the Union address Jan. 28. The Washington Post says he could announce the reforms as early as next week.

Members of Congress working on the issue of bulk data collection attending Thursday's meeting with Obama included leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees: Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. and vice chairman Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga, the press secretary's office said.

Also participating were Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT.; ranking Judiciary Committee member Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-IA; Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois; Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, and Sens. Richard Blumentah, D-Conn.; Mark Udall, D-Colo.; and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

House members included Rep. Mike Rodgers, R-Mich., chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence; House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.; Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., ranking member of the Judiciary Committee; Rep Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense; ranking committee member Peter Visclosky, D-Ind., and Reps. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. and James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.

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