Obama to review changes in spy policy

6:32 PM, Dec 13, 2013   |    comments
President Obama (Photo: Evan Vucci, AP)
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(USA TODAY) President Obama will decide next month what changes to make to data collection and surveillance programs that have drawn heavy criticism from lawmakers and privacy advocates, officials said Friday.

In the meantime, Obama and aides will be studying more than 40 recommendations made by a special study group that submitted its report on Friday.

The review will decide "which recommendations we will implement, which might require further study and which we will choose not to pursue," said Caitlin Hayden, a spokesperson for the National Security Council.

"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," she said.

The administration also announced that it will continue to keep both the National Security Agency's surveillance programs and cyber command operations under control of a single military commander.

Officials had considered splitting the posts in light of news reports about the breadth and scope of programs that could sweep in phone and Internet data from across the world, including the United States.

"Following a thorough interagency review, the administration has decided that keeping the positions of NSA director and cyber command commander together as one, dual-hatted position is the most effective approach to accomplishing both agencies' missions," Hayden said.

The current director, Gen. Keith Alexander, is scheduled to retire this spring and will be replaced by a military officer.

During an interview last week on MSNBC, Obama said he would be proposing "some self-restraint" on the NSA, including "reforms that can give people more confidence" in its work.

Obama also defended the NSA, saying it gathers information to block possible terrorist attacks.

"The people at the NSA, generally, are looking out for the safety of the American people," Obama said. "They are not interested in reading your emails. They're not interested in reading your text messages."

Recent months have included reports that the NSA has gathered intelligence on foreign leaders, some of whom have protested to Obama directly.

Obama created the President's Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies in the wake of news stories based on disclosures by NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Their report "looks at how, in light of advancements in technology, the United States can employ its signal intelligence capabilities in a way that optimally protects our national security and advances our foreign policy, while appropriately accounting for other policy considerations, including the need to maintain public trust and reducing the risk of unauthorized disclosure," Hayden said.

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