President Obama on Tuesday proposed ending bulk collection of telephone records by the government with a proposal that he said addresses "core concerns" about surveillance.
The White House is proposing to do away with a phone records database now maintained by the National Security Agency (NSA) and instead require telephone companies to keep the information. Government investigators seeking to search the phone records would be required to obtain an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
At a press conference at a nuclear summit in the Netherlands, Obama said his proposal "ensures that government is not in possession of that bulk data."
"I want to emphasize once again that some of the dangers that people hypothesized when it came to bulk data, there were clear safeguards against," he said. "But I recognize that people were concerned about what might happen in the future with that bulk data. This proposal that's been presented to me would eliminate that concern."
The president said the plan also makes sure "that not only is a judge overseeing the overall program but also that a judge is looking at each individual inquiry that's made into a database."
"So overall, I'm confident that it allows us to do what is necessary in order to deal with the dangers of a terrorist attack, but does so in a way that addresses some of the concerns that people had raised," Obama said.
Under the plan, first reported by the New York Times on Monday night, telephone companies would not be required to keep records beyond the 18 months already required by federal rules.
Obama ordered senior administration officials to develop the proposal during a speech in January where he outlined several reforms to the controversial NSA surveillance programs.
The programs have strained relationships with some of the United States' European allies, but Obama said Tuesday that the controversy did not "define" those relationships.
"What I've tried to do then is to make sure that my intelligence teams are consulting very closely at each stage with their counterparts in other nations so that there's greater transparency in terms of what exactly we're doing, what we're not doing," Obama said.
At the same time, the president blasted reporting on the subject in both Europe and the U.S. as "pretty sensationalized."
"I think the fears about our privacy in this age of the Internet and big data are justified," Obama said. “I think the actual facts — people would have an assurance that if you are just the ordinary citizen in any of these countries, that your privacy, in fact, is not being invaded on."