President Obama on Tuesday said he was “confident” changes to the National Security Agency's bulk collection of phone metadata would both address privacy concerns and keep the nation safe from terror attacks.
“Overall, I'm confident that it allows us to do what is necessary in order to deal with the dangers of a terrorist attack, but does so in a way that addresses some of the concerns that people had raised,” said Obama at a press conference in The Hague, where he is attending a nuclear summit with other world leaders.
The government would also need to require authorization from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for each specific phone number they wanted data on and demonstrate a link to possible terror threats. Intelligence officials could also obtain data on other callers within two “hops” from the initial number if authorized by a judge.
Phone companies would be required to keep the data for only 18 months, the length of time they currently do.
Obama painted the changes as the next step following his review of the agency's controversial surveillance techniques, first disclosed by leaker Edward Snowden.
“I said several months ago that I was assigning our various agencies in the IC — the intelligence community — to bring me new options with respect to the telephone database program,” said Obama. “They have presented me now with an option that I think is workable. And it addresses the two core concerns that people have.”
Obama said those two issues were concerns over government storing bulk data and calls for greater judicial oversight over the intelligence programs.
“Some of the dangers that people hypothesized when it came to bulk data, there were clear safeguards against,” the president continued. “But I recognize that people were concerned about what might happen in the future with that bulk data. This proposal that's been presented to me would eliminate that concern.”
Obama also said that the new plan would insure that “a judge is looking at each individual inquiry that's made into a database.”
But changes to the NSA will require the approval of lawmakers on Capitol Hill, and Obama expressed hope that Congress would “go ahead and pass the enabling legislation quickly.”
According to a report in the Washington Post Monday a bipartisan bill from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., and ranking member Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., would also bar the federal government from collecting and storing some phone and internet data.