White House officials say U.S. President Barack Obama is set to end government control of its massive collection of records about phone calls Americans make and require judicial approval to search the data.
His aides said that Mr. Obama will call Friday for the government to move away from controlling the records by March 28, the date on which a secret surveillance court would have to reauthorize the program. The records would then be held in the private sector, although it was not immediately clear by whom.
The American leader is preparing for a long-awaited speech on reforms of the vast surveillance programs conducted by the clandestine National Security Agency. The speech follows months of disclosures about NSA spying by former national security contractor Edward Snowden. The NSA says he stole 1.7 million documents before fleeing to asylum in Russia.
The NSA now collects millions of records about the calls Americans make -- the number called, and the dates and lengths of the calls, but not the content.
The NSA says it needs the information to thwart a new terrorist attack against the country. But a White House panel reviewing the NSA programs and privacy experts say the data has done little to help authorities stop suspicious activity in the U.S. since the program was started in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attack.
In addition to changing the telephone data program, the White House aides say Mr. Obama will authorize new privacy protections for foreigners whose data is collected by the NSA. One Snowden revelation showed that the U.S. listened in on the cellphone calls of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Mr. Obama will also propose establishment of a public advocate to represent privacy concerns before the country's Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees spying activities.
Many Americans knew little about the surveillance being conducted by their government until learning about its scope from the documents leaked by Snowden. But lawmakers have been divided in deciding what reforms are needed, with some saying the government surveillance violates civil liberties and others supporting the program as necessary in an age of terrorism.
The U.S. has been unsuccessful in seeking Snowden's extradition to stand trial on espionage charges. He took the documents while working at an NSA outpost on the Pacific island state of Hawaii.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Thursday that Snowden's leaks were damaging, but he insisted that Mr. Obama views the debates sparked by them as "legitimate."