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TMCNet:  Obama said to have struggled most with bulk data issue

[January 17, 2014]

Obama said to have struggled most with bulk data issue

(UPI Top Stories Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) President Obama ahead of his surveillance-reform speech Friday wrestled most with how to manage U.S. phone data bulk collection, administration officials said.

His highly anticipated 11 a.m. speech at the Justice Department, after a six-month review of U.S. spying programs, is widely expected to curtail government surveillance, extend privacy safeguards to non-U.S. citizens and call for the creation of a public advocate to represent domestic privacy concerns at a secret intelligence court.


But through the 11th hour he struggled to determine the most effective way of managing the National Security Agency's bulk collection of phone data, administration officials told the Wall Street Journal.

That was "the trickiest issue" and a decision he still hadn't finalized as late as Thursday night, a senior official told the newspaper.

Obama was clear about "some portions" of how he wants to handle the data collection but still grappled with "some of the details," the official said.

Obama has decided against leaving the bulk data in telecommunications firms' custody -- a decision that goes against a recommendation of his own advisers -- in large part because the phone companies don't want the responsibility, administration officials told several news organizations.

Instead, he is expected to call on Congress to work with him to determine where the data should be stored, the officials said.

Obama's advisory panel recommended the storage move from the NSA to phone companies or some other third party.

Those calling for a broad NSA overhaul say they fear Obama will kick the can to Congress to legislate how the intelligence community operates, USA Today said.

They fear Congress won't have the political will to push for sweeping reforms involving national security without Obama's strong backing, the newspaper said.

Obama convened the blue-chip panel over the summer after public outrage over U.S. mass surveillance of entire populations within the United States and across national borders, following leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The panel made 46 reform recommendations last month, which Obama and other administration officials studied.

Obama's new guidelines Friday are the product of the panel's recommendations and the administration's desire to balance national security with many competing interests, White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

"He starts from the absolute commitment to maintaining the security of the American people, the security of our nation, of our men and women in uniform overseas and our civilians serving overseas, as well as the commitments we have to our allies," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Thursday.

"He has also said that we can and should take steps to make the activities we engage in, in order to help keep America safe and Americans safe, more transparent in order to give the public more confidence about the programs and the oversight of the programs," Carney said.

"So that's the context in which he has deliberated over these issues, in which he has tasked others to dive deep in examining the programs and in suggesting reforms and changes," he said.

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