Tuesday, October 21, 2014

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Washington Beat: Obama Outlines Reforms to NSA Surveillance Program

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President Barack Obama is calling for an end to the National Security Agency's ability to store phone data from millions of Americans, one of several surveillance policy reforms the president outlined during a Friday speech at the Justice Department. Washington bureau reporter Geoff Bennett filed the following report for NY1.

President Barack Obama, speaking at the Justice Department Friday, tracked the vital role of secret surveillance back to the country's founding.

"Throughout American history, intelligence has helped secure our country and our freedoms," the president said.

The challenge, he said, is getting the details right.

"I've often reminded myself, I would not be where I am today were it not for the courage of dissidents like Dr. King, who were spied on by their own government," Obama said. "And as president, a president who looks at intelligence every morning, I also can't help but be reminded that America must be vigilant in the face of threats."

The highly anticipated speech by Obama came after more than six months of debate about the National Security Agency's spying and data collection programs, a debate that was sparked by the leaks from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Obama didn't talk directly about Snowden's actions or motivations, but he said that the leaks undermined the nation's defense.

"If any individual who objects to government policy can take it in their own hands to publicly disclose classified information, then we will not be able to keep our people safe or conduct foreign policy," Obama said.

Though the president defended American intelligence programs, he also recommended reform. He said he wants the NSA to stop holding on to massive amounts of data about the phone calls of millions of people around the world. He wants a public advocate to represent privacy concerns at a secret intelligence court, and he vowed that the U.S. will not listen in on phone calls of allied leaders.

Obama said the debate about the will ultimately make the country stronger.

"We are held to a different standard precisely because we have been at the forefront in defending personal privacy and human dignity," he said.

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