President Barack Obama is calling for major changes in the way the U.S. intelligence community collects and stores information about people in the U.S. and abroad following disclosures that have sparked fury over sweeping government surveillance and stoked concerns about privacy. Some of the changes will take effect immediately. Others will require further study and may take action by Congress to be implemented. A look at some of the changes the president is proposing:
PHONE RECORDS STORAGE
Effective immediately, the National Security Agency will be required to get a secretive court’s permission before accessing phone records that are collected from hundreds of millions of Americans, except in emergencies. Those records, which include numbers dialed and call lengths but not the content of calls, are currently stored by the government. But Obama is calling for that to change. He is directing the attorney general and the intelligence community to come up with a new plan for another party to store the data. Some of the proposals that have been floated previously include having phone companies or a new, third party store the data. Also, the government will no longer be able to access phone records beyond two “hops” from the person they are targeting. That means the government can’t access records for someone who called someone who called someone who called the suspect.
NATIONAL SECURITY LETTERS
No longer will national security letters be kept secret indefinitely. Federal law enforcement officers issue these letters to banks, phone companies and others, demanding customer information, and the recipients are currently barred from disclosing that they’ve received the requests. Under Obama’s proposal, if the government can’t establish the need to keep the letters secret, the secrecy will be lifted after a set time period. The White House says providers receiving the letters will be able to make more information about them available publicly than ever before. One aspect that’s not changing is the government’s ability to issue the letters without seeking a court’s approval.
SPYING ON LEADERS OVERSEAS
Revelations that the U.S. monitored the communications of friendly heads of state have sparked outrage overseas. Going forward, the U.S. won’t monitor the communications of “our close friends and allies overseas” unless there’s a compelling national security purpose. But the White House isn’t publicizing a list of which countries fall under that category, so there’s little clarity about how that proposal will be implemented.
SPYING ON FOREIGNERS
Obama is issuing a presidential directive that outlines what the government uses intelligence for, and what purposes are prohibited. The directive says the government uses data for counterintelligence, counterterrorism and cybersecurity, to protect U.S. forces and allies, and to combat weapons proliferation and transnational crime. The directive says intelligence can’t be used to suppress criticism, to provide a competitive advantage to U.S. companies, or to discriminate against people based on factors like race, gender or sexual orientation. Obama is also proposing to extend to foreigners some protections against spying that U.S. citizens enjoy. He’s directing the director of national intelligence and the attorney general to develop safeguards dealing with how long the U.S. can hold information on non-citizens overseas, and restrictions on how the data is used.