President Obama is ordering changes in the NSA's broad program of collecting "metadata," such as the connection times, duration and destination of telephone calls and text messages, in such a way that intelligence agencies' ability to fight terror will not be diminished.
Mr. Obama said experts who have reviewed U.S. intelligence programs recommended that detailed records be retained by telephone-service providers, or possibly by some other third party, but that such bulk records pose difficult privacy problems.
Therefore, the president said, he has ordered a transition away from the existing program, in two steps.
Effective immediately, he told Americans, U.S. intelligence communities will only pursue phone calls that are "two steps removed" from a number associated with a terrorist organization, instead of three.
He has also instructed the intelligence community and the attorney general to use this transition period to develop options for a new approach to match the capabilities and fill the gaps that the bulk metadata program was designed to address, without the government retaining all this information.
The president set a March 28 deadline for a summary of these options. Such reforms, he said, should give Americans more confidence that their rights are being protected, without reducing the government's ability to gather intelligence.
( LAST TAKE COMING)