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Obama to announce NSA reforms next week

  |   Jan. 10, 2014 at 3:04 PM
WASHINGTON, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama is ready to announce reforms to the National Security Agency's data collection programs, the White House said Friday.

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Obama will address the issue in a speech next Friday.

The NSA's extensive data collection programs were revealed by former agency contractor Edward Snowden, who spirited documents detailing NSA surveillance out of the country when he fled first to Hong Kong and then to Russia where he has temporary asylum.

Obama has been mulling changes since the revelations began last summer.

"It is absolutely being seriously considered," a senior administration official said of a proposal by a presidential task force to end the NSA's bulk collection of phone records and instead force it to do focused searches of data held elsewhere.

"This is really crunch time," Senate Intelligence Committee member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who has advocated for a major surveillance overhaul, told the Journal.

"This is when major decisions about the new rules as it relates to surveillance are going to be made," he said.

Obama is expected to back a mix of executive actions and measures that would require congressional approval, the officials told the Journal.

Carney told reporters Thursday he expected Obama would announce some reforms that he would "want to act on, or want the government to act, on right away.

"There will be others that he may decide should not be acted on, and there may be some that would require further review," Carney said.

Obama and top administration and congressional officials held a flurry of meetings on surveillance reform this week.

The meetings with lawmakers, intelligence officials, privacy and civil liberties advocates, and others included a gathering Friday with technology firms to hear their concerns, White House officials said without identifying the firms.

The meeting was billed as a follow-up to Obama's Dec. 17 session with more than a dozen technology executives, including Apple Inc. Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook, Yahoo! Inc. CEO Marissa Mayer, Facebook Inc. Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and Google Inc. Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, a tech representative told Politico.

Many of the companies urged Obama after the meeting to "move aggressively" on NSA reform.

The string of meetings is part of a broad review by Obama and other White House officials of 46 wide-ranging recommendations by the task force, which 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.

"Any decision to engage in surveillance of the leaders of a foreign nation must be taken with great care," the report says. The group further recommends the administration consider informal arrangements with close allies to govern spying on each other's citizens.

The report also proposes 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.

Snowden was invited Thursday by a European Parliament committee to testify via video link as part of an investigation into how to protect the privacy of European citizens.

The Justice and Civil Liberties Committee did not propose a date for the testimony. It was not immediately clear if Snowden would accept the invitation.

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