Obama to reveal curbs on NSA spying

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama is to announce changes to US electronic spy programmes after revelations made by ex-intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

He aims to restore public confidence in the intelligence community.

Mr Obama is expected to create a public advocate at the secretive court that approves intelligence collection.

His proposals come hours after UK media reports that the US has collected and stored almost 200 million text messages per day across the globe.

A National Security Agency (NSA) programme extracted and stored data from the SMS messages to gather location information, contacts and financial data, according to the Guardian newspaper and Channel Four News.

The report is the latest in a series of revelations from files leaked by Mr Snowden, a former NSA contractor charged in the US with espionage and currently a fugitive in Russia.

The NSA told the BBC the programme stored "lawfully collected SMS data" and any implication that collection was "arbitrary and unconstrained is false".
Up to Congress

Mr Obama's speech on Friday at Department of Justice comes after a five-person White House panel given the job of reviewing US electronic spying programmes in the wake of Mr Snowden's disclosures presented their report in December.

Among their recommendations was the creation of a public advocate position at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), where judges have approved the mass spying programme. Currently, only the US government is represented in front of FISC judges.

In details leaked to various US media by the White House, Mr Obama is expected to endorse that position, as well as extending some privacy protections for foreigners.

He is also expected to include increased oversight of how the US monitors foreign leaders and to limit how long some data can be stored.

But President Obama is not expected to endorse one of the panel's headline recommendations - shifting the storage of phone records from the NSA to the telecommunications firm or a third party where it can be queried under limited conditions.

He is expected to leave the decision on whether that should be implemented to Congress.

Civil rights and privacy groups were wary ahead of the speech.

"If Congress fails to act on this matter, as it has on other critical policy issues, President Obama will effectively be handing off a treasure trove of all our private data to succeeding presidents," Anthony Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement.

BBC North America editor Mark Mardell says the exposure of the NSA's programme caused huge embarrassment to the US government, not least the suggestion it was spying on the mobile phone conversations of friendly foreign leaders, such as Germany's Angela Merkel.

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