Here are the major changes in U.S. policy on conducting surveillance both at home and abroad that Obama is proposing.
1) Obama has declared that U.S. spy agencies will no longer hold Americans’ phone records. As a result, the surveillance program that became the biggest Edward Snowden-related controversy will come to an end, at least as it is constructed now. This major shift will take months if not more to accomplish. In the meantime, President Obama is imposing new limits on the government’s ability to access such data.
2) Even so, Obama wants to ensure that the government can still access call records when it needs to. How is not yet clear. The White House cited options including requiring phone companies to hold onto their customers’ phone call records and grant government access under court order, or the creation of a new entity to serve as guardian of a massive call-records database.
3) Obama has ordered significant new restrictions on spying on close U.S. allies. Heads of states that are friendly with the United States will now be off-limits for electronic surveillance. White House officials said they already stopped collection on “dozens” of such targets. Still, there are loopholes. Obama isn’t making clear who qualifies as a close ally, and the restrictions don’t apply to foreign leaders’ aides.
4) Obama is calling for the creation of a new panel to serve as public advocates in cases handled by a special surveillance court. Members of the panel would be cleared to appear before a court that has approved massive surveillance programs entirely in secret, with no input from the public or those who would be surveillance targets. Creating the new panel would require action by Congress.
5) Obama is also promising new privacy protections for foreigners, aiming to assure citizens of countries in Europe and elsewhere that they won’t be swept up in U.S. surveillance unless there is a compelling national security purpose for the United States. The new rules are to be developed in the coming months.