Obama to call for limits on NSA data collection programs

President Barack Obama is expected to unveil new guidelines Friday limiting the National Security Agency's surveillance activities, a move that follows a months-long review of the country's intelligence-gathering operations in response to the public outcry over disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

President Barack Obama is expected to outline his reforms to NSA data collection programs on Friday. Watch his remarks live from the Justice Department in Washington, scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. EST.

President Barack Obama is expected to unveil new guidelines Friday limiting the National Security Agency's surveillance activities, a move that follows a months-long review of the country's intelligence-gathering operations in response to the public outcry over disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The high-profile leaks caused political headaches for the president at home, triggering outrage from civil liberties groups and calls from members of Congress to rein in the agency's activities. The revelations that the U.S. had been eavesdropping on the phone calls of foreign leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff also strained diplomatic relations with close allies.

Mr. Obama will outline his reforms during an 11 a.m. speech at the Justice Department.

The Morning Line

The New York Times' Mark Landler previews the president's remarks:

President Obama will lay out plans on Friday morning to pull back the government's wide net of surveillance at home and abroad, in a speech that administration officials say will stake out a middle ground between the far-reaching proposals of his own advisers and the concerns of the nation's intelligence agencies.

Mr. Obama is expected to outline plans to put more limits on the bulk collection of telephone calls; tighten privacy safeguards for foreigners, particularly heads of state; and propose a new public advocate to represent privacy concerns at a secret intelligence court.


But he will stop short of turning over the storage of phone data to a consortium of telecommunications companies, according to officials, and he will not require that a court grant permission for all so-called national security letters seeking business records.

The Washington Post's David Nakamura and Ellen Nakashima have more on the president's proposed changes to the NSA's collection of Americans' telephone metadata:

The president plans to say that the NSA's metadata program remains a critical tool for U.S. intelligence agencies to root out and prevent terrorist activities, said the administration official, who spoke in advance of the speech on condition of anonymity.

But Obama also will say that the United States should be able to "preserve those capabilities while addressing the privacy and civil liberties concerns" raised by recent disclosures in the media about the government control of the metadata.

The president has said he believes that "just because we can do something, doesn't mean we should do it," in response to questions about the government's surveillance operations. But he has also suggested the privacy concerns must be balanced with the administration's mission of protecting the country.

The Huffington Post's Matt Sledge and Sabrina Siddiqui write that for NSA reformers, Friday's speech by the president is not likely to go far enough to fulfill their demands.

Peter Baker, meanwhile, looks at the president's evolution from critic to overseer of the government's spying apparatus in the New York Times:

Aides said that even as a senator, Mr. Obama supported robust surveillance as long as it was legal and appropriate, and that as president he still shares the concerns about overreach he expressed years ago. But they said his views have been shaped to a striking degree by the reality of waking up every day in the White House responsible for heading off the myriad threats he finds in his daily intelligence briefings.

As the president seeks to strike a balance when it comes to the government's intelligence-gathering activities, he faces a public that is split on the issue. Polls show Americans are willing to accept some tradeoffs in privacy for national security, but remain skeptical of the bulk collection of personal data.

Friday's task for the president is convincing the American people that the reforms he is proposing will strike the right balance between those two concerns.


A bipartisan group of lawmakers unveiled a plan Thursday to revive the pieces of the Voting Rights Act that the U.S. Supreme Court had gutted in 2013.

The legislation, introduced by Sen. Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., and others in the House, would rewrite the guidelines for states and localities to fall under federal pre-clearance restrictions for elections.

The court struck down similar guidelines that worked with another part of the voting rights law to determine which areas in the U.S. had histories of discriminatory voting practices dating back to the 1960s. The court called those guidelines outdated.

A new formula would place states, i.e. Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, back under the pre-clearance conditions. Those states would have to ask the U.S. Department of Justice for approval before changing any voting conditions such as district lines or polling places. The new bill also outlines a "bail-in" process, meaning how the Justice Department would place additional areas under those same conditions if they disenfranchise racial or language minorities in the future.

But Ari Berman of the Nation notes:

The new Section 4 proposal is far from perfect. It does not apply to states with an extensive record of voting discrimination, like Alabama (where civil rights protests in Selma gave birth to the VRA), Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, which were previously subject to Section 5. Nor does it apply to states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that have enacted new voting restrictions in the past few years.

Civil rights groups and the U.S. Department of Justice applauded the proposal.

"Given the bipartisan history of the Voting Rights Act, it is encouraging that the process for restoring the law after last year's Supreme Court decision is bipartisan, too," a DOJ spokesman said in a statement to the NewsHour. "The Department will work with Congress in the weeks ahead to ensure any legislative proposal includes all the reforms necessary to fully protect Americans' access to the franchise."

Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a phone interview with the NewsHour she was "pleased" with the proposal.

"For all of this to happen the day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday and right before the big federal holiday says a lot," she said.

Arnwine criticized, however, the way that the proposal carves out an exception for states that institute photo ID regulations. While supporters of the regulations say they prevent voter fraud, others allege the ID restrictions make it more difficult for the poor, elderly and minorities to vote.

The Lawyers' Committee and other civil rights groups hope the legislation, or a tweaked version of it, could pass by the end of summer 2014. That would allow the regulations to take effect before the mid-term elections later this year.

Of course, the bill will have to pass congressional muster. And even if it does, it could still face tests in the court system.

Edward Blum, director of the Project on Fair Representation, which worked on the legal challenge to the preclearance clause last year, told the NewsHour he believes this bill would be unconstitutional. He wrote in an email to NewsHour:

"It is the latest attempt by some in Congress to bring under federal supervision a handful of states for actions that have little to do with racial discrimination in voting, but more to do with achieving racial proportionality in legislative bodies. The Supreme Court recognized last year that supervision of elections is a local matter. The proposed legislation is an attempt to end run the Constitution. It is unlikely the representatives from Texas, Georgia and the other affected states will concur that their states need election oversight from the staff of the Department of Justice."

Before the Supreme Court weighed in last year with its 5-4 decision, Congress had last reauthorized the Voting Rights Act in 2006.

The PBS NewsHour collected in-depth coverage of the Voting Rights Act while it was tested before the court. Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and James Burling, director of litigation for the Pacific Legal Foundation, explained the practical effects of the court's ruling last year. And dozens of NewsHour viewers remembered how the Voting Rights Act changed their lives in 1965 with this audio collection.


Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., will leave office at the end of the current session of Congress, two years before his term is set to expire. The two-term lawmaker has been battling a recurrence of prostate cancer, but he said his decision was not influenced by his health. "As a citizen, I am now convinced that I can best serve my own children and grandchildren by shifting my focus elsewhere," Coburn said in a statement released Thursday. "In the meantime, I look forward to finishing this year strong."

GOP Rep. Buck McKeon, the chair of the House Armed Services Committee, announced Thursday that he would not run for a 12th term in November.

The Senate approved a $1.1 trillion spending bill Thursday on a 72 to 26 vote.

Former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie officially launched his Senate campaign against Virginia Democrat Mark Warner in a YouTube video posted Thursday. "I'm running for Senate because the American Dream is being undermined by policies that move us away from constitutional principles of limited government and personal liberty," Gillespie says in the clip.

Utah residents are now split 48 percent for and 48 percent against allowing the state to issue same-sex marriage licenses, according to a SurveyUSA poll conducted for The Salt Lake Tribune. In 2004, 66 percent of Utahns approved an amendment limiting marriage to a man and woman and barring the state from recognizing civil unions or domestic partnerships.

WNYC's Andrea Bernstein reports on how New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's team has used the Port Authority as a "political piggy bank."

In New Jersey Thursday, 20 subpoenas were issued to 17 people and three organizations regarding the ongoing bridge scandal.

As lawmakers including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., attempt to bring climate change to the forefront, National Journal's Jack Fitzpatrick also points out that the Sunday talk shows have only interviewed two climate scientists in the past five years.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Thursday he's changed his mind when it comes to legalizing medical marijuana. "I think we need to take a real close look at this," Reid told the Las Vegas Sun. "I think that there's some medical reasons for marijuana." The Senate Majority Leader said his support did not extend to recreational marijuana.

We've all heard of the brand name Super PACs, but here are 10 lesser-known Super PACs that could have a big impact on 2014. The extent of their power will become more clear after the Jan. 31 filing deadline with the Federal Election Commission.

It's pretty apparent Barbara Bush does not want her son, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, to run for president. The former first lady told C-SPAN, "[T]here's no question in my mind that Jeb is the best-qualified person to run for president, but I hope he won't ... There are other families. I refuse to accept that this great country isn't raising other wonderful people." Last April she responded to a question about a potential Jeb Bush run by saying, "We've had enough Bushes."

First Lady Michelle Obama celebrates her 50th birthday on Saturday. The Times' Jennifer Steinhauer examines "the conflicting diptych of glamorous mystery woman and regular PTA mother" that has characterized the first lady during her five years in Washington.

Where do you wait? The Washington City Paper collected images of Washington's bus stops over the course of a year, capturing one of the few universal experiences in the city.

The Morning Line will be off Monday Jan. 20 in observance of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. We know you'll miss it in your inbox, but never fear -- we'll return Jan. 21.


Scene in the Senate: Lawmakers literally running through the halls post-omnibus vote. Airplanes to catch!

— Kasie Hunt (@kasie) January 16, 2014

Ask @floorcharts RT @jzembik: .@nielslesniewski is there a record for most floor charts used in one speech?

— Niels Lesniewski (@nielslesniewski) January 16, 2014

Simone Pathe and Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.

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