Obama: NSA will not hold telephone metadata, nor spy on heads of state

Trying to counter widespread criticism of the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs, President Barack Obama on Friday announced a number of reforms to the way U.S. intelligence agencies operate.
Obama has ordered the National Security Agency to relinquish control of the telephone metadata it collects to the providers (telcos) or a third party. It remains unclear how that will work, however.
Obama is giving the NSA and Attorney General Eric Holder 60 days to develop a revised structure for the program. They’re to deliver their recommendations prior to the late March deadline by which Congress must vote to reauthorize various intelligence practices, including the telephone data collection program.
Intelligence agencies will also have to seek judicial approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) court before querying the NSA database for information on a potential suspect. Privacy and civil liberties advocates have argued that the secret FISA court simply serves as a rubber stamp for government requests, however. Obama sought to assuage those critics with his support for the appointment of a “privacy advocate” on the FISA court.
Obama also ordered a change, effective immediately, that limits intelligence agencies from pursuing phone calls more than two steps removed from a number associated with a terrorist organization, as opposed to three.
“I believe it is important that the capability that this program is designed to meet is preserved,” said Obama during his speech. ”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 our private lives and open the door to more intrusive, bulk collection programs in the future.”