Washington (AFP) – President Barack Obama will Friday announce plans to stop the National Security Agency hoarding hundreds of millions of telephone call records, among reforms to U.S. surveillance programs exposed by Edward Snowden.
A senior U.S. official, speaking ahead of Obama’s speech on NSA programs, said that Obama believed trawling for telephone “metadata” was vital to fighting terrorism, but needed to be reformed to preserve civil liberties.
“In his speech, the president will say that he is ordering a transition that will end the Section 215 telephone metadata program as it currently exists,” the senior official told AFP.
The president foresees a move to a program “that preserves the capabilities we need without the government holding this bulk metadata.”
“The president believes that the 215 program addresses important capabilities that allow us to counter terrorism, but that we can and should be able to preserve those capabilities while addressing the privacy and civil liberties concerns that are raised by the government holding this metadata.”
It was not immediately clear how Obama would accomplish the reform or whether he would leave it up to Congress to decide which entity should hold the call data.
Telecommunications companies have balked at suggestions that data on the destination and duration of calls should be held within their servers and be accessed by U.S. spies armed with court permission.
Some activists have suggested a third party company could be charged with holding the data.
Obama will also order Friday another immediate change to the system of telephone data dragnets, requiring a judicial finding before the NSA can query the database, the official said.
Obama has also asked Attorney General Eric Holder and the intelligence community to report to him by March 28 on how the program can be preserved without the government holding the metadata.
Snowden, a fugitive U.S. contractor now exiled in Russia, has fueled months of revelations by media organizations over data mining and spying on foreign leaders by the NSA in one of the biggest security breaches in U.S. history.
The disclosures have infuriated U.S. allies, embarrassed Obama administration diplomats and shocked privacy campaigners and lawmakers.
The White House has assured Americans that data on phone calls and Internet use is only collected to build patterns of contacts between terror suspects — and that U.S. spies are not listening in.
But Obama has said that one of his goals in Friday’s speech at the U.S. Justice Department is to restore public confidence in the clandestine community.
His appearance follows a prolonged period of soul-searching and policy reviews by the White House.