US President Barack Obama is expected to restrict National Security Agency (NSA) access to Americans’ telephone records and rein in spying on foreign leaders, according to people familiar with a White House review of the government’s surveillance programs.
Obama could unveil his highly anticipated decisions as early as next week. He was expected to discuss his review yesterday with congressional lawmakers, while his top lawyer planned to meet with privacy groups. Representatives from tech companies are meeting with White House staff today.
The White House says Obama is still collecting information before making final decisions.
Among the changes Obama is expected to announce is more oversight of the National Intelligence Priorities Framework, a classified document that ranks US intelligence-gathering priorities and is used to make decisions on scrutiny of foreign leaders.
A presidential review board has recommended increasing the number of policy officials who help establish those priorities, and that could result in limits on surveillance of allies.
Documents released by former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden revealed that the US was monitoring the communications of several friendly foreign leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The revelations outraged Merkel as well as other leaders, and US officials say the disclosures have damaged Obama’s relations around the world.
Obama and Merkel spoke by phone on Wednesday, but US officials would not say whether they discussed the NSA issues.
The US president is also said to be considering one of the review board’s most aggressive recommendations, a proposal to strip the NSA of its ability to store telephone records from millions of Americans and instead have phone companies or a third party hold the records.
The NSA would be able to access the records only by obtaining separate court approval for each search, though exceptions could be made in the case of a national security emergency.
Before making his final decisions, Obama was supposed to receive a separate report from a semi-independent commission known as the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which was created by Congress.
However, that panel’s report has been delayed without explanation until at least later this month, meaning it will not reach the president until after he makes his decisions public.
Members of that oversight board met with Obama on Wednesday and have briefed other administration officials on some of their preliminary findings.
In a statement, the five-member panel said its meeting with Obama focused on the NSA phone collection program and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees the data sweeps.
It is unclear why Obama will announce his recommendations before receiving the report from the privacy and civil liberties board.
One official familiar with the review process said that some White House officials were puzzled by the board’s delay. The report would still be available to Congress, where legislators are grappling with several bills aimed at dismantling or preserving the NSA’s authority.
Obama also met Wednesday with members of the US intelligence community, which largely supports keeping the NSA surveillance programs intact.