(Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
President Obama will call Friday for ending the National Security Agency's ability to store phone data from millions of Americans, and he will ask Congress, the Justice Department and the intelligence community to help decide who should hold these records, officials said.
In his speech Friday on surveillance policy, Obama plans to argue that the metadata program is a major counterterrorism tool, but changes can be made to reassure Americans that it is not being abused.
"We can and should be able to preserve those capabilities while addressing the privacy and civil liberties concerns that are raised by the government holding this meta-data," said a senior administration official.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to pre-empt Obama's speech, which is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday.
In the near term, Obama will modify the program to require a judicial finding every time the government seeks information from the phone database, officials said.
Obama will ask Attorney General Eric Holder and the intelligence community to deliver a report by March 28 on how to handle the program in the long term. The president will also consult with the relevant committees in Congress on their views.
A special committee appointed by Obama last year has recommended that telephone metadata by held by a third party, or the phone companies themselves. But some phone providers have balked at the latter idea.
The president will deliver a long-anticipated speech on new policies for NSA surveillance policies, seeking what he calls a balance between national security and personal privacy.
The address concludes a months-long review of NSA policies, spurred by news leaks from former contractor Edward Snowden about the scope, reach, and possible abuses of spying programs.
Obama wants intelligence agencies to use new technology "in a way that optimally protects our national security while supporting our foreign policy, respecting privacy and civil liberties, maintaining the public trust, and reducing the risk of unauthorized disclosures," says the White House schedule.
Obama may also recommend the appointment of a public advocate to the special court that oversees the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and approves warrants for snooping.
The president may also call for new rules on surveillance of foreign leaders, an issue that has created diplomatic friction in recent months.
President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil canceled a state visit to the United States last year over news that her government had been spied upon. German Chancellor Angela Merkel protested directly to Obama about NSA activity.
Obama has defended the NSA, saying that surveillance programs are essential tools in preventing terrorist attacks.
The president's NSA speech will not end the privacy/security debate, however.
Obama is expected to ask Congress to sign off on many of his proposals. The surveillance programs are also the subjects of multiple lawsuits, and the security-privacy issue could wind up before the Supreme Court.
By David Jackson