Obama hints at changing phone records collection

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 20, 2013 at 9:01 pm •  Published: December 20, 2013
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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama suggested Friday that he may be ready to make some changes in the bulk collection of Americans' phone records to allay the public's concern about privacy.

Obama said he has not yet made any decisions about the National Security Agency's collection programs. But among the dozens of recommendations he's considering, he hinted that he may strip the NSA of its ability to store data in its own facilities and instead shift that storage to the private phone companies.

"There may be another way of skinning the cat," Obama said during a news conference.

His hint at concessions came the same week a federal judge declared the bulk collection program unconstitutional and a presidential advisory panel that included intelligence experts suggested reforms. Both the judge and the panel said there was little evidence any terror plot had been thwarted by the program, known as Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act.

"There are ways we can do it, potentially, that gives people greater assurance that there are checks and balances — that there's sufficient oversight and sufficient transparency," Obama said. Programs like the bulk collection of phone records "could be redesigned in ways that give you the same information when you need it without creating these potentials for abuse."

The advisory panel offered 46 recommendations in the wake of public outrage over the government's vast surveillance. The panel recommended that the phone records be stored at the private phone companies, but it also called for the government to obtain permission from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in order to access them.

He did not address that option, which means the government could still have unfettered access to the data. He continued to defend the need for this program for national security. Obama can reject, accept or amend any of the recommendations, and he only spoke generally about the possible need for some changes, but not how much, if at all, the programs would change.

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