President Barack Obama said he will act in January on the recommendations of an advisory panel suggesting changes to government surveillance programs.
“What we’re doing now is evaluating all of the recommendations that have been made,” Obama said at a news conference today. “I’m going to make a pretty definitive statement about all of this in January.”
He’ll decide which recommendations “make sense” and which need further work, Obama said at a White House news conference, his final planned for 2013.
The Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology, a five-member panel, offered 46 policy changes this week that would allow U.S. surveillance programs to continue while limiting worldwide collection of communications by the National Security Agency.
The proposals, which Obama isn’t obligated to adopt, aim to alter spy programs in response to a domestic and international backlash over the extent of U.S. surveillance exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Before the report was released, Obama rejected the panel’s recommendation that the NSA be given a civilian leader and separated from the Pentagon’s Cyber Command.
“I have confidence in the fact the NSA is not engaging in domestic surveillance or snooping around”, he said, while “we may have to refine this further to give people more confidence” because of evolving technology.
“Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we necessarily should,” he added.
Lawmakers may consider legislation early next year to rein in the NSA.
In its report, made public on Dec. 18 and submitted to the president on Dec. 13, the panel recommended satisfying a demand of Internet companies such as Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO) and Facebook Inc. (FB) Internet companies should be permitted to make public “general information” about government orders compelling them to turn over data, including how many users are affected.
The panel also would put new burdens on telecommunications providers to retain data for future snooping.
It recommended the NSA retain access to bulk phone-calling records, with two changes: Phone companies, not the spy agency, should keep the records, and the NSA should have to obtain court orders for specific customer data.
Surveillance of foreign leaders could continue if more consideration is given on a case-by-case basis to national security, economic and diplomatic implications, the panel said.
The panel also recommended that the U.S. not undermine or weaken encryption standards, and establish international norms to prevent a splintering of the Internet.
The so-called “metadata” bulk collection of phone data “has probably got the most attention,” Obama said today. The NSA, based on its experiences following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, thought that “it was necessary for us to track” calls coming into the U.S. and store the data.
Any changes must be made with the agency’s goal of protecting the U.S. public in mind, he said.