Obama Moves to Protect 'People Overseas’ from U.S. Surveillance

By Terence P. Jeffrey | January 18, 2014 | 12:47 PM EST

President Barack Obama Talks about National Security Agency surveillance at the Justice Department. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

(CNSNews.com) - In a speech delivered at the Department of Justice on Friday, President Barack Obama said that he has told Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Attorney General Eric Holder to develop “safeguards” to protect foreign nationals on foreign soil—or “ordinary folks," as he called them—from U.S. espionage efforts.

He also said he has issued a new presidential directive governing “overseas surveillance.”

“In this directive,” Obama said, “I have taken the unprecedented step of extending certain protections that we have for the American people to people overseas."

“We take their privacy concerns into account in our policies and procedures,” Obama said.

Obama announced his decision to protect the privacy concerns of foreign nationals on foreign soil in a speech intended to respond to criticism of a National Security Agency program that collected en masse the “metadata” of telephone communications between U.S. citizens on U.S. soil.

The program was developed so the U.S. government could track the communications of terrorists inside the United States.

In the part of his speech dealing specifically with this program, Obama said he would change the program as it “currently exists.”

“I am therefore ordering a transition that will end the Section 215 bulk metadata program as it currently exists, and establish a mechanism that preserves the capabilities we need without the government holding this bulk metadata,” said Obama.

“I’ve ordered that the transition away from the existing program will proceed in two steps,” said Obama.  “Effective immediately, we will only pursue phone calls that are two steps removed from a number associated with a terrorist organization instead of the current three.”

“Next, step two, I have instructed the intelligence community and the Attorney General to use this transition period to develop options for a new approach that can match the capabilities and fill the gaps that the Section 215 program was designed to address without the government holding this metadata itself,” said Obama. “They will report back to me with options for alternative approaches before the program comes up for reauthorization on March 28th.”

Here is the section of President Obama’s speech where he explained his “unprecedented step of extending certain protections that we have for the American people to people overseas”:

President Barack Obama: ...For that reason, the new presidential directive that I’ve issued today will clearly prescribe what we do, and do not do, when it comes to our overseas surveillance.  To begin with, the directive makes clear that the United States only uses signals intelligence for legitimate national security purposes, and not for the purpose of indiscriminately reviewing the emails or phone calls of ordinary folks.

I’ve also made it clear that the United States does not collect intelligence to suppress criticism or dissent, nor do we collect intelligence to disadvantage people on the basis of their ethnicity, or race, or gender, or sexual orientation, or religious beliefs.  We do not collect intelligence to provide a competitive advantage to U.S. companies or U.S. commercial sectors.

And in terms of our bulk collection of signals intelligence, U.S. intelligence agencies will only use such data to meet specific security requirements:  counterintelligence, counterterrorism, counter-proliferation, cybersecurity, force protection for our troops and our allies, and combating transnational crime, including sanctions evasion.

In this directive, I have taken the unprecedented step of extending certain protections that we have for the American people to people overseas.  I’ve directed the DNI, in consultation with the Attorney General, to develop these safeguards, which will limit the duration that we can hold personal information, while also restricting the use of this information.

The bottom line is that people around the world, regardless of their nationality, should know that the United States is not spying on ordinary people who don’t threaten our national security, and that we take their privacy concerns into account in our policies and procedures.  This applies to foreign leaders as well.  Given the understandable attention that this issue has received, I have made clear to the intelligence community that unless there is a compelling national security purpose, we will not monitor the communications of heads of state and government of our close friends and allies. And I’ve instructed my national security team, as well as the intelligence community, to work with foreign counterparts to deepen our coordination and cooperation in ways that rebuild trust going forward.

Now let me be clear:  Our intelligence agencies will continue to gather information about the intentions of governments -- as opposed to ordinary citizens -- around the world, in the same way that the intelligence services of every other nation does ...