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Intelligence

Obama panel recommends NSA overhaul

A panel set up by US President Barack Obama to examine the vast surveillance programs of the National Security Agency (NSA) has recommended an overhaul. It includes new criteria for surveillance of foreign leaders.

'Overhaul' for NSA?

A report on controversial NSA practices submitted to Obama last week was released by the White House on Wednesday. Obama, who met the review panel earlier in the day, is not obligated to accept the proposals.

The review followed published leaks showing the extent of NSA electronic eavesdropping provided by former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who has temporary asylum in Russia.

The leaks prompted outrage among many US allies and civil libertarians, deeply embarrassed Washington, and raised searching questions about the balance between individual privacy and the battle against terrorism in US society.

Guidance standards

The panel's 46 recommendations include reform of a secret Washington-based US national security court and an end to the collection of telephone "metadata."

Surveillance must be guided by standards and by high-level policymakers, the panel concludes.

The 308-page report said the US government should explore agreements on spying practices "with a small number of closely allied governments."

The report also called for "significant steps" to be taken "to protect the privacy of non-US persons," and urged more cooperation with allies to avoid the diplomatic fallout from revelations of US intelligence gathering.

Obama is expected to study the report next week during his Christmas vacation in Hawaii and deliver possible decisions in January.

'More transparent' mechanisms

Richard Clarke, a former White House counterterrorism aide who is a member of the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, said: "We are not saying the struggle against terrorism is over."

Clarke said there were "mechanisms that can be more transparent, can have more independent oversight" and cited the need to "give the public a sense of trust that goes beyond what it is today."

Documents leaked by Snowden showed that an obscure US surveillance court based in Washington had secretly approved the collection of raw daily phone records in the United States.

Other revelations included reports that US monitoring extended to some foreign leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff.

On Tuesday, US technology company executives visited Obama and pressed him to rein in the government's electronic spying after US District Court judge Richard Leon dealt a blow to the administration's surveillance practices.

Leon ruled that the NSA's bulk gathering of phone records was likely constitutionally unlawful and called it an "arbitrary invasion" of personal data.

ipj/ccp (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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