Obama Outlines US Spying Overhaul


In a speech he made last Friday, President Barrack Obama said that he vows to narrow the government’s access to American phone records as a move to change surveillance activities.

The US president said that he no longer wants the NSA to have a database of such records; instead a new database will be made and may be in the possession of a different organization. According to President Obama, the congress will be tasked to create a new system to handle information like phone records.

Aside from the new system, Obama has ordered that from now on, the government must get a court order for every phone number it wants to check. Analysts will still be able to review phone calls that are two steps removed from a number related with a terrorist group instead of the usual three. He has also ordered to stop the eavesdropping on numerous foreign leaders of different governments that are friends or allies.

According to White House officials, the restraints that President Obama has imposed are the very first of its nature since surveillance was boosted post September 11. The biggest of them all is the removal of the phone database which, according to experts, could take months, even longer. Critics are even saying that the work that the president has entrusted to congress is so difficult that it may even be impossible.

The president is still retaining a huge majority of the intelligence programs and capabilities that have been exposed over the past 6 months. One of the most controversial capabilities called metadata or the ability of the government to access bulk telephone records will likely be preserved, although it will now be done under a more restricted manner. The said database doesn’t hold actual phone calls, only number, call lengths, and time.

Obama also mentioned that others have offered alternatives, such as the shift of the handling of the records from government to third party organizations. He says that plans like this will not be easily done as it will face logistical and political hurdles.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. was given until the 28th of March to come up with a plan to transition the government’s possession of bulk data. Existing authorities for the phone records program will expire on the given date, in which they have to reauthorize with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court if they want to be reassigned.

Both in his speech and the specifics of his overhaul, the US President has straddled civil liberties imperatives and security. The proposals that he made were aimed at containing the public backlash that was triggered by Edward Snowden, but also to preserve the powers of US intelligence agencies that are critical to preventing further terrorist attacks.

To end, the president ended his speech with this:

“And because of the strength of our own democracy, we should not shy away from high expectations. For more than two centuries, our Constitution has weathered every type of change because we’ve been willing to defend it and because we’ve been willing to question the actions that have been taken in its defense. Today is no different. I believe we can meet high expectations. Together, let us chart a way forward that secures the life of our nation while preserving the liberties that make our nation worth fighting for.”

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