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Obama to address privacy concerns

President Barack Obama suggested Friday that he may be ready to make some changes in the bulk collection of Americans' phone records to allay the public's concern about privacy.

Obama said he has not yet made any decisions about the National Security Agency's collection programs. But among the dozens of recommendations he's considering, he hinted that he may strip the NSA of its ability to store data in its own facilities and instead shift that storage to the private phone companies.

"There may be another way of skinning the cat," Obama said during a news conference.

His hint at concessions came the same week a federal judge declared the bulk collection program unconstitutional and a presidential advisory panel that included intelligence experts suggested reforms. Both the judge and the panel said there was little evidence any terror plot had been thwarted by the program, known as Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act.

The advisory panel offered 46 recommendations in the wake of public outrage over the government's vast surveillance. The panel recommended that the phone records be stored at the private phone companies, but it also called for the government to obtain permission from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in order to access them.

The federal judge who declared the NSA's vast phone data collection unconstitutional, Richard Leon, called the NSA's operation "Orwellian" in scale and said there was little evidence that its gargantuan inventory of phone records from American users had prevented a terrorist attack. However, he stopped his ruling Monday from taking effect, pending a likely government appeal.

Obama offered a broad defence of the surveillance programs revealed over the past six months after a former NSA systems analyst disclosed classified materials. He insisted there has been no abuse of this information collected and stored on Americans. But he said he understands that the public is concerned about privacy. 

The bulk collection program sweeps up what's known as metadata for every phone call made in the U.S. It collects the number called, the number from which the call is made and the duration and time of the call.

The Canadian Press
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