17 January 2014, WH: Presidential Policy Directive: Signals Intelligence Activites (PPD-28) (PDF)

Obama Says Government Mass Collection of U.S. Phone Data Will End

President Also to Require Court Order for Search of Information

By Carol E. Lee And Siobhan Gorman

Jan. 17, 2014

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama said Friday that the U.S. government will end its mass collection of American phone data, a victory for civil libertarians that marks the most significant curtailment of U.S. surveillance practices in more than a decade.

The most immediate changes to spy operations affect a National Security Agency program that collects data on nearly all U.S. phone calls. Under the new presidential directive, intelligence officials are now required to obtain an order from a secret national-security court for government searches of phone data, and the scope of individual searches has been scaled back.

"The reforms I'm proposing today should give the American people greater confidence that their rights are being protected, even as our intelligence and law-enforcement agencies maintain the tools they need to keep us safe," Mr. Obama said in prepared remarks. "I recognize that there are additional issues that require further debate."

Mr. Obama also adopted new protections for non-U.S. citizens and put an end to spying on the heads of state of close U.S. allies, although monitoring directed at leaders' staff members wasn't prohibited.

The reforms follow months of highly sensitive leaks by former government contractor Edward Snowden about secret U.S. spying practices that have embarrassed the White House and sapped Americans' trust in the president.

With his announcement, in a speech at the Justice Department, Mr. Obama also set the stage for a clash with intelligence officials as well as their allies in Congress and elsewhere.

The changes, while more sweeping than anticipated, leave some key surveillance practices untouched. Among them are other mass data-collection programs that operate under the same authority as the NSA phone-data program, including a Central Intelligence Agency program that collects data on international money transfers from companies such as Western Union, which includes records of millions of Americans.

But the overall effect of the changes unveiled by Mr. Obama imposes sweeping new requirements that U.S. spy programs satisfy privacy and civil-liberties objections.

"He recognizes the concerns that have been raised about the potential for abuse when the government is in the business of collecting these volumes of information," said a senior official.

In his speech, Mr. Obama issued a directive that outlined new rules of the road for NSA surveillance practices both at home and overseas.

Mr. Obama will make clear that the NSA phone-data program will be housed outside of the government, but he didn't specify an alternative location. Instead, he asked the attorney general, the NSA, and other spy-agency leaders to work with Congress to devise one and report to the president within 60 days.

He also opened the door to further changes to the NSA's mass monitoring of foreign targets, which collects vast amounts of American data "incidentally." He asked the attorney general and director of national intelligence to consider greater protections for Americans' data in those spy operations.
Mr. Obama is establishing a new process for an annual evaluation of surveillance targets that weighs costs and benefits of stealing communications from a particular individual.

He also spelled out new protections for non-U.S. citizens, specifying that surveillance will only be done to counter espionage, terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, cyberthreats, dangers to U.S. and allied armed forces, and transnational criminal threats.

There are also new limits on the length of time the U.S. can hold data of non-U.S. individuals who aren't of foreign intelligence interest.

And he stated what the U.S. won't use mass foreign monitoring for, including: suppressing dissent, racial or sexual discrimination or giving U.S. companies a competitive advantage.

"Our signals intelligence activities must take into account that all persons should be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their nationality or wherever they might reside, and that all persons have legitimate privacy interests in the handling of their personal information," the new presidential directive states.

He is directing the attorney general and the director of national intelligence to review future opinions of the secret national-security court known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to see if they can be declassified.

On the controversial practice of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's issuing so-called national-security letters that demand data and don't require judicial review, Mr. Obama isn't accepting the recommendation of his handpicked review panel that they require a judge's sign-off.

However, officials said, he will ask the Attorney General to review the process to reduce the secrecy that surrounds them, and companies that receive the letter will be able to make more information public about their receipt of the orders. Currently they can't ever acknowledge they have received a letter.

The changes to U.S. surveillance programs are part of Mr. Obama's broader re-examination of post-Sept. 11 security practices. The reviews of the use of armed drones; the closing of the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and now U.S. surveillance programs are designed to restructure terrorism policies and shore up their credibility before Mr. Obama leaves office, White House official say.

The next policy to come under similar review is the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, a senior administration official said, referring to the congressional act that provided the basis of a campaign widely known as the "war on terror."

Mr. Obama has said his goal is to revise and eventually repeal the authorization, the primary legal justification for military operations against al Qaeda around the world, including in Afghanistan, but also Somalia and Yemen.

Senior administration officials say Mr. Obama was still wrestling the day before his speech with elements of the phone data-collection program, underscoring how vexing these issues are for any president, and how much Mr. Obama, a former constitutional-law professor, agonizes over choices about national security and personal privacy.

Mr. Obama's speech was highly anticipated by a range of audiences, including lawmakers, intelligence officers, foreign leaders, civil-liberties advocates, technology companies and the broader American public. Each has a major stake in new rules of the road for U.S. surveillance.

Lawmakers in both parties are deeply divided over whether surveillance operations should be significantly curtailed. Some of Mr. Obama's announcements Friday put him at odds with his own Democratic Party, as well as his traditional Republican adversaries.

Mr. Obama had long intended to review U.S. surveillance practices, administration officials said, but the process was hastened by leaks of classified information by Mr. Snowden, who is now a fugitive living in Moscow.

The location of the phone data has come under the most intense debate. Mr. Obama's handpicked review panel, which gave him its recommendations last month, proposed that phone data be stored someplace other than with the NSA. The panel also recommended that investigators be required to get a judge's order to do a search of that data.

Telecommunications companies and the NSA have made the case to Mr. Obama that relocation would be technically difficult, while many privacy advocates don't think changing the location of the data would enhance privacy protections.

Requiring a judge's order for searches will appeal to many privacy advocates, but intelligence leaders have said such a change is needless, cumbersome and will slow investigations.

Write to Carol E. Lee at and Siobhan Gorman at