Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Attorney General Eric Holder support a Senate bill that would significantly limit the National Security Agency's ability to collect and store Americans' metadata.
"The intelligence community believes that your bill preserves essential intelligence-community capabilities; and the Department of Justice and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence support your bill and believe that it is a reasonable compromise that enhances privacy and civil liberties and increases transparency," the senior Obama administration officials wrote Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy in a letter released Wednesday by the Democrat's office. "Overall, the bill's significant reforms should provide the public greater confidence in our programs and the checks and balances in the system."
Clapper had previously balked at legislative efforts to overhaul the spy agency's clandestine surveillance techniques, which prompted widespread criticism in the wake of disclosures made by former government contractor Edward Snowden.
The legislation would essentially halt the mass collection of phone metadata and place new oversights on how the NSA operates.
Leahy's bill has received support from prominent Republicans and Democrats and the endorsement by the Obama administration could ease its passage once lawmakers return from their summer recess.
President Obama has been criticized for not moving quickly enough to correct what civil liberties groups see as major privacy violations. But watchdog organizations on Wednesday praised the change in tone from the White House.
“This support from our leaders on national security strongly confirms that we can advance privacy protections without sacrificing our safety,” said Center for Democracy & Technology President and CEO Nuala O’Connor. “After a year of debate, the consensus is clear — bulk collection is invasive and unnecessary, and its prohibition will not hamper essential intelligence needs."