U.S. President Barack Obama is nearing decisions on whether to curb the vast clandestine spy programs being conducted by the country's National Security Agency.
The president is meeting Thursday with key congressional leaders who oversee American intelligence efforts and lawmakers who have been sharply critical of the scope of the U.S. surveillance. The White House talks are part of a series of meetings Obama has held this week about the NSA spying, including one Wednesday with his top intelligence officials.
Aides say he could announce changes in the U.S. spy programs in the coming days, possibly as early as next week.
Obama has said he wants to strike a proper balance in the spy programs. U.S. intelligence leaders say the surveillance remains essential to the country's efforts to thwart terrorist attacks, while others say the spying is violating their privacy.
One aide said the meeting with the intelligence chiefs was an "important chance" for the president to hear directly from them about their concerns as he weighs whether to rein in spying on foreign leaders and curb the NSA's collection of millions of records of phone calls made by Americans.
In massive leaks about details of the NSA spying last year, former national security contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the United States listened in on calls made by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a key U.S. ally, and other friendly foreign leaders. The NSA also says it has collected the telephone numbers Americans have called, as well as the dates and lengths of the calls, although not their content.
An intelligence review panel in December called for an end to the NSA collection of the phone data. In separate lawsuits, two U.S. judges have reached different decisions on the legality of the program, one upholding it and the other saying that it likely violated the U.S. Constitution's prohibition against illegal searches.
The NSA says the 31-year-old Snowden may have stolen 1.7 million documents while working at an NSA outpost in the Pacific island state of Hawaii. He is living in Russia in asylum, but Moscow has rebuffed American efforts to extradite him to face espionage charges in the United States.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.