Obama weighs spying recommendations

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WASHINGTON (CNN) — President Barack Obama must decide in the coming weeks how to rein in the vast spying powers of the federal government without putting Americans’ safety at risk, a task he’s said would result in new “self-restraint” at the National Security Agency.

On Friday, a review panel of outside officials delivered dozens of recommendations to Obama on ways the U.S. can balance necessary intelligence gathering with expectations of privacy among both Americans and foreign governments. Convened amid a series of leaks from former government contractor Edward Snowden, the review board operated in privateand its recommendations won’t be made public until next month.

“We expect our overall internal review to be completed in January and the President thereafter to deliver remarks to outline the outcomes of our work,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said on Friday.

The review came as newspapers published story after story detailing the spying powers of the NSA and other federal agencies, including reports that the U.S. government tracked the cell phones of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders. The revelations prompted outcry from Americans and foreign governments, concerned the U.S. was overreaching in its efforts to thwart terrorist attacks.

Reports published in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times last week indicated the recommendations from the review group included transferring the command of the NSA from military to civilian leadership and handing over control of cell phone records to a third party.

Some opponents of the NSA programs have called for the agency’s spying and military cybercommand to be split into two; however, on Friday the White House said the dual NSA missions would remain under one chief to avoid duplicated work and better foster cooperation.

Michael Hayden, a former NSA director, said on Sunday the agency’s boss doesn’t necessarily have to be a military commander.

“My view would be take the best American out there and put them in the job, don’t make it a requirement that they’d be in (or) out of uniform,” he said.

Obama has come under pressure from his liberal base to find ways of curbing the federal government’s spying powers, including demands from lawmakers that more oversight be enacted to prevent abuses during the secretive legal process allowing spying to take place.

“Nothing short of stopping the mass, suspicionless surveillance of Americans is acceptable,” Michelle Richardson, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said last week, as reports of the review panel’s recommendation leaked. “We look forward to evaluating the report’s details and whether the reported ‘stricter rules’ for obtaining U.S. records are a meaningful and substantive improvement. In the end, however, Congress must pass legislation to end bulk collection of Americans’ sensitive call records. Requiring third parties to store Americans’ records for the government is not a solution.”

Obama vowed at the beginning of December to find ways of reforming the NSA, though in making the pledge he also defended the agency’s work.

“I’ll be proposing some self-restraint on the NSA, and you know, to initiate some reforms that can give people more confidence,” he told MSNBC on December 5. “But I want everybody to be clear: The people of the NSA generally are looking out for the safety of the American people.”

By Kevin Liptak

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