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December 19, 2013

Advisory panel recommends more oversight for NSA

WASHINGTON (AP) — If President Barack Obama follows even half of the recommendations urged by his advisory panel, the National Security Agency would significantly change the way it does business.

The collection of U.S. phone records and the spying on other governments and their citizens would continue. But Americans' phone records would be held by phone companies, not the NSA, and multiple court orders, rather than just one, could be required before the information could be searched.

Other changes: The president would have to sign off personally on spying on foreign leaders, and foreigners would have greater rights not to be spied upon. Foreign countries could enter into do-not-spy agreements with the U.S. The White House would have to sign off on spying on just about anything deemed sensitive.

The 300-page report released Wednesday by a five-member panel of intelligence and legal experts proposed 46 recommendations that, taken together, call for more oversight of the government's vast spying network. Still, few programs would be ended.

Obama is not bound by a single recommendation. He's already rejected one of them — that oversight of the NSA and the Cyber Command be split, allowing a civilian to head the NSA. The White House said he is considering the other recommendations.

Privacy activists and lawmakers campaigning to rein in NSA hailed the review group's report. "The message to the NSA is now coming from every branch of government and from every corner of our nation: You have gone too far," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

The task force also had some pointed criticism for how the NSA has defended its record. Its report concludes that telephone information collected in bulk by the NSA and used in terror investigations "was not essential to preventing attacks."

"We're not saying the struggle against terrorism is over or that we can dismantle the mechanisms that we have put in place to safeguard the country," said Richard Clarke, a task force member and former government counterterrorism official. "What we are saying is those mechanisms can be more transparent."

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