President Obama Outlines Plan to Reform NSA

U.S. president reiterates benefits of NSA while announcing changes to protocols.
3:00 | 01/17/14

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Transcript for President Obama Outlines Plan to Reform NSA
This is a special group. I'm down a couple of New York with a CBC news digital special report the future of the US surveillance state -- in the balance today as president Obama's delivering his decision. On the future of a number of controversial NSA spy programs there is a live shot at the Department of Justice for the president is expected -- -- short time. So for more on these potential changes to some of the programs I want to bring -- ABC's chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl standing by at the White House and also political director Rick -- From our bureau in Washington DC guys thanks for being with us John I want to start with you bottom line it for us is the president can make any substantive changes to the NSA spy protocol. -- is basically a punt to congress. Well yes he is gonna make some significant changes but it is also upon so I can tell you that there's a little bit of -- going on here that the biggest thing that is happening here. Is the bulk data collection -- phone records this -- been the source of so much of the controversy the NSA collects millions of our. Of our phone records and -- uses them as a database. The can be tapped into when they're trying to track suspected terrorists phone calls. That database the president -- -- call for moving out of the NSA either something that would be held by the phone companies. Or something that would be held by some third party non governmental entity. That is a change that's gonna have to be worked out with congress it can't happen immediately but he is saying that he will move forward in order that that change be made the other. Potentially more far reaching change here and -- -- the -- the attorney general. -- key player on that the director of the CIA. There at the speech. The other key changes saying that when the intelligence community -- law enforcement wants to get access to that database. Is going to first have to get a court order some kind of a court order from that secretive foreign intelligence surveillance court the so called -- court. That's a big change right now the intelligence community. Can access the database of all those millions of phone records for anything at all it does not need to get a court order. Intel it is asking you to listen in on the phone calls or to get actual content on phone calls. Right now they can access that the -- record -- the data without any ordered all that changes immediately beginning today. So the two big components where the data is stored and how it can be accessed that's going to be addressed today Rick wanna go to you what is the temperature on the hill right now is there any appetite. -- to scrap these programs. There is some appetite to scrap it but it by and large there's a middle of the congress that tracks the middle of the country which is. Basically where the president is trying to define his common ground today to say. We know that these programs are useful we know that we need to have tools like this to stop terrorists. But we also know that there are balance civil liberties concerns that have been made evident by the disclosures by -- Snowden last year. And to try to get to harness that for some kind of -- and the renewed program in the White House making emphasis today of ending the -- program. And starting a new program they're gonna have to work with congress on this. All along the way of course the president's gonna have to navigate. On his left liberals on his right libertarians who agree on this and say that the program is misguided needs much more substantive changes. I think like many compromises this is unlikely to satisfy the critics on either the left -- the right. The president as John mentioned is gonna have to work with congress to try to work this out it is a congressionally authorized program. He's gonna have to have their authority their authorization for a lot of what he's trying to do any renewed program. John let me ask you this that is has no shot against anyone's intelligence or understanding of this but most members of congress. Have no better understanding of these programs that than than you me. Just given the nature of that area itself but the ones who are briefed they obviously can't share the information because it is classified. It was a huge handicap to have to legislate. So it really is and we've seen this time and time again. Where you have a controversial program this is not the first -- coming out of the intelligence community and the editors and outrage in congress wants the program is revealed. And they knew -- the administration we heard this under the Bush Administration to will come out and say. Look we briefed congress on this -- -- They briefed congress -- briefed the leaders of the intelligence community. And told they couldn't tell anybody that was classified. So that they are at a at a at a serious disadvantage here I've got to tell you that there's want. Question of fact here -- did it is going to be very important try to work out will be listening to the president you he says about it. Earlier the president said there had been more than fifteen. Attempted terrorist attacks that had been thwarted. Because of this program. Now his own intelligence advisory panel come out and took issue that said no -- here is the president United States city addresses. A thank you very much. Thank. You so much we won't -- -- the dogma of our republic. The small secret surveillance committee. Born out of the sons of liberty was established in Boston. And the group's members included -- -- beer. At night they would patrol the streets reporting -- any signs. That the British were preparing raids against America's early patriots. Throughout American history. Intelligence has helped secure our country and our freedoms. The civil war. Union balloons reconnaissance tracked the size of confederate armies by counting the number of -- In World War II code breakers give us insights and Japanese war plants. And -- -- marched across -- Intercepted communications. Helped save the lives of his troops. After the war. The rise of the iron curtain and nuclear weapons only increased the need for sustained intelligence gap. And so in the early days of the Cold War president Truman created the National Security Agency or NSA. To give us insights into the Soviet watt. And provide our leaders -- information they needed to confront aggression and avert catastrophe. Throughout this evolution. We benefit from both our constitution. And our traditions of limited government. US intelligence agencies were anchored in a system of checks and balances. -- oversight from elected leaders and protections for ordinary citizens. Meanwhile totalitarian states like he's Germany offered a cautionary tale of what could happen when. Vast unchecked surveillance. -- citizens and informers. And persecuted people for what they -- in the privacy of their own homes. In fact even the United States proved not to be immune. To the abuse of -- -- in the 1960s government. Spied on civil rights leaders and critics of the Vietnam War. Partly in response to these revelations. Additional laws were established in the 1970s to ensure that our intelligence capabilities could not be misused. Against our citizens. In the long twilight struggle against communism we had been reminded that. The very liberties that we -- to preserve could not be sacrificed. At the altar of national secure. The fall of the Soviet Union left America without -- competing superpower. Emerging threats from terrorist groups and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Place new and in some ways more complicated demands our intelligence agencies. Globalization and the Internet made these threats more acute as technology erase borders and empowered individuals to project great violence as well as greater good. Moreover these new threats raised new legal. And new policy questions. For while few doubt of the legitimacy of spying on hostile states. Our framework of laws was not fully adapted to prevent terrorist attacks by individuals. Acting on the wrong. Correcting and small ideological. Ideologically driven groups on behalf of a foreign power. The horror. Of September 11 brought all these issues to the four. Across the political spectrum Americans recognized. That we had to a debt to a world in which a bomb could be built in the basement. Our electric grid could be shut down by operators -- -- away. We were shaken by the science. We had -- leading up to the attacks. How to hijackers and make phone calls to known extremists. And traveled to suspicious places. So we demanded. That our intelligence community improve its capabilities. And that law enforcement change practices to focus more on preventing attacks. Before they happen. The prosecuting terrorists. After an attack. It is hard to overstate. The transformation. America's. Intelligence community had to go through after -- a -- Our agency suddenly needed do far more than the traditional mission of monitoring hostile powers and gathering information for policy makers. Instead they were now asked to identify -- target plotters and some of the most remote parts of the world. And to anticipate the actions. Of networks that by their very nature cannot. He easily penetrated with spies or informants. And it is a testimony to the hard work and dedication. The men and women of our intelligence community but over the past decade. We've made enormous strides in fulfilling this mission. Today new capabilities allow intelligence agencies to track. -- terrorist is in contact went and follow the trail of -- travel or respond. New laws allow information to be collected and shared more quickly. And effectively between federal agencies and state and local law enforcement. Relationships. With foreign intelligence services have expanded our capacity to repel cyber attacks. Have been struck. And taken together these efforts have prevented multiple attacks. And saved innocent lives not just -- in the United States. Around the blow. And yet. And are rushed to respond to a very real. And novel set -- threats. The risk of government overreach. The possibility. That we lose some of our core liberties in pursuit of security. Also became more pronounced. We saw in the immediate aftermath of not a -- about our government engaged in enhanced interrogation techniques that. Contradicted our values. As a senator I was critical of several practices such as warrantless wiretaps. And all too often new authorities were instituted without adequate public debate. -- combination of action by the courts. Increased congressional oversight. And adjustments by the previous administration. Some of the worst excesses that emerged after 9/11 -- curbed by the time I took office. -- variety of factors have continued to complicate. America's efforts to -- defend our nation and uphold. Or civil liberties. First the same technological advances that -- US intelligence agencies to pinpoint and al-Qaeda -- in Yemen. Or an email between two terrorists in the -- hell. Also mean that many routine communications around the world are within our reach. At a time when more and more of our lives are digital. Prospect is disquieting for all of us. Second the combination of increased digital information and powerful supercomputers. Offers intelligence agencies the possibility. Of sifting through massive amounts of ball data to identify patterns or pursue leads. That made for impending threats as a powerful tool. But the government collection and storage of such -- data also creates. A potential for abuse. -- The legal safeguards that -- surveillance against US persons without a -- Do not apply act foreign persons overseas. This is not unique to America few if any spy agencies around the world. Constrain their activities beyond their own borders. And the whole point intelligence is to obtain information that has not publicly available. But America's capabilities. Are unique. And the power of new technologies means that there are fewer and fewer technical constraints on what we can do. That places a special obligation on us to ask tough questions about what we should do. And finally intelligence agencies cannot -- Function without secrecy. Which makes their work less subject to public debate. Yet there is an inevitable bias. Not only within the intelligence community but among all of us -- are responsible for national security. To collect more information about the world not less. So in the absence of institutional requirements for regular debate and oversight that as public as well as private. Or classified. The danger. Of government overreach becomes more acute. And that's particularly true when surveillance technology. And our reliance on digital information is evolving much faster than our -- For all these reasons. I maintain a healthy skepticism toward our surveillance programs after I became president. I ordered that our programs be reviewed by my national security team are lawyers. And in some cases our changes in how we do business. We increased oversight and auditing. Including new structures aimed at compliance. Improve dreams were proposed by the government and approved by the foreign intelligence certain surveillance court. And we sought to keep congress continually updated on these activities. What I did not do. -- stop these programs wholesale. Not only because I felt that they made us more secure. But also because nothing in that initial review and nothing that I've learned cents. Indicated that our intelligence community has sought to violate the law -- -- cavalier. About the civil liberties of their fellow citizens. To the contrary. In an extraordinarily difficult job. One in which actions are second guessed success is on reporters and failure can be catastrophic. The men and women of the intelligence community. Including the -- asset. Consistently follow protocols designed to protect the privacy of ordinary people. They're not abusing authorities ordered to listen your private phone calls or read your -- When mistakes are made. Which is inevitable in any large and complicated human enterprise to correct those mistakes. Laboring in obscurity. Often unable to discuss the work even with family and friends. The men and women have been -- I know that if another 9/11 or massive cyber attack occurs. They will be asked by congress in the media why they failed to connect the dots. What sustains those who worked at NSA. And -- other intelligence agencies -- these pressures. Is the knowledge that their professionalism and dedication play a central role. In the defense -- Now to say that our intelligence community both the law and is staffed by patriots. -- not to suggest that fire or others my administration felt complacent about the potential impact of these programs. Those of us who hold office in America have your responsibility to our constitution. And while I was confident in the integrity of those. Who lead our intelligence community. It was clear to me in observing our intelligence operations on a regular basis that changes in our technological capabilities. Were raising new questions about the privacy safeguards currently in place. Moreover after an extended review. Of -- use of drones in the fight against terrorist networks. I believed a fresh examination of our surveillance programs was a necessary next step. In our effort to get off be open ended war footing that we've maintained cents -- one. For these reasons I indicated in a speech at the National Defense University last may that we needed a more robust public discussion. About the balance between security. And -- Of course what I did not know what time is that within weeks of my speech. An avalanche of unauthorized disclosures would spark controversy is at home and abroad. That have continued to respect. And given the fact of an open investigation. I'm not -- -- on mr. snow whose actions. Or his motivations. I will say that. Our nation's defense depends in part on the fidelity of those entrusted with our nation's secrets. If any individual who objects to government policy can take it into their own hands to publicly disclosed classified information. Then we will not be able to keep our people safe work conduct foreign policy. Moreover the sensational way in which these disclosures have come out. As often shed more heat than white. While revealing methods or adversaries that could impact our operations in ways. We may not fully understand for years to come. Regardless of how we got here -- The test before us now. Is greater than simply repairing the damage done -- operations or preventing more disclosures from taking place in the future. Instead we have to make some important decisions. About how to protect ourselves. And sustain our leadership in the world while upholding the civil liberties and privacy protections that our ideals and our constitution -- -- We need to do so not only because it is right. But because the challenges posed by threats like. Terrorism and proliferation. And cyber attacks that are not going away any -- -- they're going to. Continue to be a major problem -- And for our intelligence committee to be effective over the long haul. We must maintain the trust of the American people. And people around the world. This effort. Will not be completed over right. And give them pace of technological change we shouldn't expect this to be the last time America has this debate. But I want the American people to know. That the work has begun. Over the last six months -- created an outside review group on intelligence communications technologies to make recommendations for reform. I consulted wave the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board created by congress. I've listened to form -- Privacy advocates and industry leaders. My administration has spent countless hours. Considering how to approach intelligence in this era of diffuse threats and technological -- revolution. So before outlining specific changes that -- ordered let me. Make if you brought observations from emerge from this process. First. Everyone who has looked of these problems. Including skeptics of existing. Programs. Recognizes. That we have real enemies and threats and that intelligence serves a vital role in confronting. We cannot prevent terrorist attacks or cyber threats. Without some capability to penetrate digital communications. -- stuff unravel a terrorist plot. To intercept malware that targets -- stock exchange. To make sure air traffic control systems are not compromised. -- to ensure that hackers do not -- to your bank accounts. We are expected to protect the American people that requires us. To have capabilities. In this field. Moreover we cannot unilaterally disarm our intelligence that uses. There's a reason why blackberries and iphones are not allowed. In the White House situation room. We know that the intelligence services of other countries. Including some who feign surprise over the snow disclosures. Are constantly probing our government. And private sector networks. An accelerated programs to listen to our conversations and intercept our emails and compromise our systems. We know that. Meanwhile a number of countries including some who have loudly criticize -- NSA. Privately acknowledge that America has special responsibilities as the world's only superpower. That our intelligence capabilities are critical to meeting these responsibilities. And that they themselves have relied on the information we -- to protect. Their own people. -- Just as ardent civil libertarians recognize the need for robust intelligence capabilities. Those with -- responsibilities for our national security readily acknowledge the potential for abuse. As intelligence capabilities events and more more private information is -- After all the folks -- NSA and other intelligence agencies. Are neighbors. There are friends and family. -- got the electronic bank and medical records like everybody else. Their -- on FaceBook and -- program. And made no more than most of us. The vulnerabilities to privacy that exist in a world where transactions are recorded in email and text and messages are stored. And even our movements can increasingly be tracked through the GPS on our phones. Murder that there was a recognition by all who participated in these reviews. But the challenges to our privacy do not come from governmental. Corporations of all shapes and sizes track what you buy store and analyze. -- -- And use it for commercial purposes. And so those targeted ads pop up on your computer -- Smartphone periodically. But all of us understand. But the standards for government surveillance must be higher. Given the unique power of the state it is not enough for leaders to say trust us we won't abuse the data we collect. For history has too many examples when that trust has been breached. Are -- the system of government is built on the premise that our liberty cannot depend on the good intentions of those and -- It depends on ball. To constrain those in power. I made these observations to underscore that the basic values of most Americans -- comes to questions surveillance and privacy. Convert a lot more than the -- characterizations that emerged. Over the last several months. Those were troubled by our existing programs are not interested in repeating. The tragedy of nine elevenths. And those who defend these programs are not dismissive of the civil liberties. The challenges of getting the details right and that is not simple. Inspector in the course of our review. I've often remind myself I would not be where I am today we're not for the -- of dissidents like Doctor King. Who were spied upon by their own government. And as president. A president who looks and intelligence every morning I also can't help but be reminded. America must be vigilant. In the face threats. Fortunately by focusing on facts and specifics rather than speculation and hypotheticals. This review process has given me and hopefully the American people. Some clear direction for change. And today I can announce a series of concrete and substantial reforms that my administration intends to adopt administrative what. Or will seek to codified what -- First. I have approved a new presidential directive for our signals intelligence activities. Both at home and -- brought. This guidance will strengthen executive branch oversight of our intelligence activities. -- will ensure that we take into account our security requirements. But also our alliances. Our trade and investment relationships including the concerns of American companies. And our commitment. To privacy and basic liberties. And we will review decisions about intelligence priorities and sensitive targets on an annual basis so that our actions. Are regularly scrutinized by my senior national security to. Second we won't reform programs and procedures in place to provide greater transparency. -- surveillance activities. And fortify the sabres to protect the privacy of US persons. Since we began this review -- Including information being released -- that. -- declassified -- forty opinions and orders. Foreign intelligence surveillance court. Which provides judicial review of some -- most sensitive intelligence activities. Including the section 702 program targeting foreign individuals overseas. And -- section. 215 telephone metadata program. Going forward I'm directing the Director of National Intelligence. In consultation with the attorney general. To annually review. For the purposes of any future opinions of the court -- brought privacy implications. And to report to me and to congress on these efforts. To ensure that. The court hears a broader range of privacy perspectives. I'm also calling on congress to authorize the establishment. Of a panel of advocates from outside government. To provide an independent voice in significant cases before the foreign intelligence surveillance court. -- -- We won't provide additional protections for activities conducted under section seven out. Which allows the government to intercept communications of foreign targets overseas. Who have information that's important for our national security. Specifically I'm asking the attorney general and -- not. To institute. Reforms -- place additional restrictions on government's ability to retain search and use in criminal cases. Communications between Americans and foreign citizens incidentally collected under section sentinel took. -- -- In investigating threats. The FBI also relies on what's called national security letters. Which can require companies to provide specific. And limited information. To the government without disclosing their orders to the subject of the investigation. These are cases in which it's important that the subject of the investigation. Such as a possible terrorist -- spot. Isn't tipped off. But we can and should be more transparent and how government uses this authority. -- therefore directed. The attorney general to -- how we use national security letters. So that this secrecy. Will not be indefinite. -- will terminate within a fixed taught. Unless the government demonstrates a real need for further -- We will also enable communications providers to make. Public more information than ever before about the orders that they have received to provide data. To the government. This brings me to the program that is generated the most controversy these past few months. The ball collection of telephone records under section 250. -- repeat what I said when the story first world. This program does not involve the content of phone calls. Or the names of people making calls. Instead it provides a record of phone numbers and the times and links. -- -- Metadata. That can be queried. If and when we have a reasonable suspicion that a particular number is linked. To a terrorist organization. Why is this necessary. The program grew out of a desire to address a gap identified after 9/11 one of the 9/11 hijackers. Khalid all men are. Made a phone call from San Diego to a known al-Qaeda safe house in -- NSA saw that call. But he could not seen that. The call is coming from an individual already in the United States. The telephone metadata program under section 215 was designed to map the communications of terrorists so we can see. Who they may be in contact with -- as quickly as possible. And this capability could also prove valuable in a crisis for example. If a bomb goes off and -- -- our cities and law enforcement is racing to determine whether a network is poised to conduct additional tax. Time is of the essence. Being able to quickly review. Phone connections. To assess whether a network exists. Is critical to that -- in some. The program does not involve the NSA examining the phone records of ordinary Americans. Rather it consolidates these records into a database that the government. Can queried if it has -- specifically. A consolidation of phone records that. The company's party retained for business purposes. The room you broke. Turned up no indication -- this database has been intentionally abused. And I believe it is important that the capabilities of this program is designed to meet. Is preserved. Having said that. I believe critics are right to point out that without proper safeguards. This type of program could be used to yield more information about -- private ones. And opened the door to more intrusive. Small collection programs in the future. They're also right. To point out that although the telephone -- collection program was subject to oversight by foreign intelligence surveillance court. And has been re authorized repeatedly by congress. It has never been subject to vigorous public debate. For all these reasons I believe we need a new approach. I'm therefore ordering a transition. That -- and that the section 215 -- metadata program as it currently exists. And establish a mechanism that preserves the capabilities we need. Without the government. Holding this ball metadata. This warm -- except. The review group recommended that our current approach be replaced by one in which. The providers or any third party retain that the ball records. With the government accessing information is needed. Both of these options. -- ethical problems. Relying solely on the records of multiple providers for example could require companies to Alter their procedures in ways that raise new privacy concerns. On the other hand any third party maintaining a single consolidated database. Would be carrying out what's essentially a government function. But -- -- spends. More legal ambiguity potentially less accountability. All of which would have a -- impact on increasing public confidence that. Their privacy is being -- During the review process some suggested that we may also be able to preserve the capabilities we need. Through a combination of existing authorities. Better information sharing and recent technological advances. But more work needs to be done to determine exactly how the system might work. Because of the challenges involved. I've ordered that the transition away from existing program will proceed in two steps. Effective immediately. We will only pursue phone calls that are two steps removed from a number associated with a terrorist organization instead of the current three. And I have directed the attorney general to work with the foreign intelligence surveillance court -- that during this transition period. The database can be queried only after a judicial finding. Or in the case -- rumors. Next. Step two. I've instructed the intelligence community and the attorney general. To use this transition period. To develop options for a new approach that can match the capabilities and fill the gaps that the section -- -- program was designed to address. Without the government holding this metadata itself. They will report back to me with -- options for alternative approaches. Before the program comes up for reauthorization on March 28. And during this period -- consult with the relevant committees in congress. To seek their views. And then seek congressional authorization for the new program has made. Other 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 the site. Not recognize that there are additional issues that require further debate for example. Some who participated in our review as well as some members of congress. Would like to see more sweeping reforms to the use of national security letters. So we have to go to a judge. Each time before issuing these requests. Here -- I have concerns that we should not set a standard for terrorism investigations. That is higher than those involved in investigating an ordinary crime. But I bring. The greater oversight on the use of these letters may be appropriate and I'm prepared to work with congress on this issue. There are also those who would like to see different changes to five support from the ones I propose. On all these issues are open to working with congress to ensure that we build a broad consensus for how to move -- I'm confident that we can shape an approach that meets our security needs -- holding. The civil liberties of every American. Let me now turn to the separate set of concerns that have been raised overseas. And focus on America's approach to intelligence collection a brawl. As I've indicated the United States has unique responsibilities when it comes to intelligence collection. Our capabilities help protect not only our nation but. Our friends. And our allies as well. But our efforts will only. Be effective if ordinary citizens in other countries. Have confidence that the United States respects their privacy to. And the leaders are close friends and allies deserve to know that it I want know what they think about a mission. I'll pick up the phone and call them rather than turning to surveillance. In other words just as we balance security and privacy at home. Our global leadership demands that we balance our security requirements against our need to maintain the trust and cooperation. Among people and leaders around the world. For that reason the new presidential directive that -- issued today. What clearly prescribe what we do and do not do when it comes to war overseas surveillance. To begin where the director makes clear that the United States only uses signals intelligence. For legitimate national security purposes and not for the purpose of indiscriminately reviewing the emails are. Phone calls ordinary folks. I've also made it clear that the United States does not collect intelligence to suppress criticism or dissent. Nor do we collect intelligence to disadvantaged people on the basis of their ethnicity or race or gender or sexual orientation -- Religious beliefs. We do not collect intelligence to provide a competitive advantage to US companies. Or US commercial sectors. And in terms of our -- collection of signals intelligence. US intelligence agencies will only use such data to meet specific security requirements. Counterintelligence. Counterterrorism. Counter proliferation. Cyber security Force Protection for our troops and our allies. And combating transnational crime including sections of -- In this director I have. Taken the unprecedented step of extending certain protections that we have for the American people. To people overseas. I've directed the -- and -- -- in consultation with the attorney general. To develop. These safeguards which will limit the duration that we can hold personal information. Also restricting the use of this information. The bottom line is that people around the world regardless of their nationality. Should know that the United States is not spying on ordinary people who don't threaten our national security. We take their privacy concerns into account. In our policies and procedures. There's applies to foreign leaders as well. Given the understandable intention of this issues received I've made clear to the intelligence community that. Unless there is a compelling national security purpose. We will not monitor the communications of heads of state and government of -- close friends and allies. I'm instructed my national security team as well as the intelligence community. To work with foreign counterparts to deepen our coordination and cooperation. In ways that rebuild trust going forward. Now let me be clear. -- our intelligence agencies will continue to gather information about the intentions of governments. -- post ordinary citizens around the world. In the same way that the intelligence services of every other nation to -- We will not apologize simply because our services may be more effective. But heads of state -- government with whom we work closely and on whose cooperation we depend. Should feel confident that we are treating them as real -- And the -- is -- order to do just that. Finally. To make sure that we follow through. All these reforms. I'm making some important changes to allow our government is -- The State Department will designate a senior officer. To coordinate our diplomacy on issues related to technology and signals intelligence. We -- -- a senior official at the White House to implement. The new privacy safeguards that -- announced today that. I -- devote the resources to centralize and improve the process we used to handle former crests from legal assistance. Keeping our high standards for privacy while helping foreign partners spiked crime and terrorists. I've also asked my counsel's job the best. To lead a comprehensive review. Of big data and privacy. -- group will consist of government officials who along with the president's council of advisors on science and technology. Will reach out of privacy experts. Technologists. And business leaders and look how the challenges inherent in big -- care are being confronted by both the public and private sectors. Whether we can forge international norms on how to manage this -- And how we can continue to promote the free flow of information in ways that are consistent -- both privacy. And secured. For ultimately. What's at stake in this debate. Goes far beyond a few months of headlines or -- tensions in our foreign -- When you cut through the Norris. What's really at stake. Is how we remain true to who we are. In a world that is remaking itself at dizzying speed. Whether it's the ability of individuals to communicate ideas. To access information that would have once filled every great library and every country in the world. Were forged bonds with people on the other -- glow. -- -- making what is possible for individuals. And for institutions and for the international order. So while the reforms that -- announced will point us. In a new direction I am mindful that more work will be needed in the future. One thing I'm certain of this debate will make a strong. And I also know that in this time of change. The United States of America will have to lead. It may seem sometimes -- America's being held to a different standard. And augment the readiness of some to assume the worst motives by our government. Can be frustrated. No one expects China to have opened debate about their surveillance programs. Or Russia to take privacy concerns of citizens and other places and -- But let's remember. We are held to a different standard precisely because. We have been at the forefront of defending personal privacy and human dignity. -- the nation that developed the Internet. The world expects us to ensure that the digital revolution works as a tool for individual empowerment. Not government control. Having faced down the dangerous. Of totalitarianism. Fascism communism. The world expects us to stand up for the principal. That every person has the right to thank. And -- And form relationships. Freely. Because individual freedom is the wellspring of human progress. Those values make us who we are. And because of the strength of our democracy we should not shy away. From high expectations. For more than two centuries. Our constitution has weathered every type of change because we've been willing to defend. And because we've been willing to question the actions that have been taken in its defense. Today's no different. I believe we can meet. High expectations. Together let us chart a way forward that secures the life of our nation while preserving. The -- that make our nation -- fighting for. Thank you god bless -- May god bless the United States Merck. The president. Ending a streak at the Department of Justice in Washington DC addressing the concerns and the changes proposed for. By the NSA surveillance and spying program. How we listen that is the discussion in Washington DC. -- want to bring in our political director Rick -- has been watching the speech as well. Rick during a speech the president basically -- -- of the old practices and then said that there is change needed. Where does he really stand on this program. It is quite a tight wrote that he's got to walk here because -- this -- on one level -- -- -- -- -- and working it is from preventing terrorist attacks has been saving American lives. On the other hand he has to say. We're gonna get stronger because of the changes I'm making right now so the White House is trying to have it both ways here don't make any mistake about it they're trying to say we're ending the old program however are also saying the -- program -- and elements of that have to continue in a newly authorized program so it is exactly that middle ground on the White House -- pushing back at that notion. That it is a middle ground that's exactly what this is does not give either side -- argument one. And what are you what are the things he mentioned in the speech is essential the front of it -- it is not a caveat to allow the government to essentially. Have a blanket issue of trust in fact the president saying given any power the state is not enough for leaders to say trust us we won't abuse the data. Laying bare -- essentially that the vulnerability of of American citizens. Look -- -- a way around that and I think he he's right in pointing out the fact that people that work in the intelligence community have no margin for error they're -- -- be second guessed. Regardless of what happens. But I I think this whole debate in the idea that we even be having it without the -- disclosures I think it's folly he -- -- veiled references that a couple referenced the snow and directly. But I think looking the president realizes he's got to get in front of this again he has the re calibrate this before congress -- him in for the American people arraignment. And it is that kind of defensive posture that they've been stuck in as a result of this that it -- colors the entire response to this this is not just the president. Going forward and announcing new changes to programs these programs we didn't even know about most of them a year ago right now so. He he he inducement -- raft of of disclosures has -- and really fast. And at the same time he's got a -- this new policy on the fly that keeps us safe. And just sort of recap what you did at the top right before the speech. Really two major components that were addressed one where this data is stored whether it be metadata or the actual content of this -- And how it is access. That's right it is essentially more roadblocks along the way that prevents. -- rogue operator or someone with nefarious. Motives or just they do you know government is government agency that decides they -- do something to stop them along the way so one is just making sure you get a court to approve before you do an initial sweep of the data. And a second -- is where that data is that the physical location of the with the amazing volume of data that's out there right now on the phone programs. Those that the key elements here that he's talking about again working with congress to find find some some ways that will significantly change the way the program has been conducted. And the key point being march 28 is -- -- program is up for renewal. That's right he's using that deadline as an opportunity of the program expires at the end of march so be up for reauthorization. It's an opportunity to say work were ending the old program formally legally -- renewing and a brand new program that -- these additional safeguards. Two months to have a debate on that ABC's Rick -- -- Washington DC -- thank you for that appreciate that a complete report from right here on ABC news dot confidant Dan Cutler and New York with this ABC news digital special report.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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