Obama: I haven’t forgotten NSA reform

President Obama still has plans to change U.S. spying programs, he maintained on Tuesday, even as many of the concerns about surveillance have slipped from the headlines.

“While some have moved on from the debates over our surveillance programs, I haven’t,” he said during the State of the Union address. “As promised, our intelligence agencies have worked hard, with the recommendations of privacy advocates, to increase transparency and build more safeguards against potential abuse.

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“As Americans, we cherish our civil liberties — and we need to uphold that commitment if we want maximum cooperation from other countries and industry in our fight against terrorist networks,” he added.

In the speech, Obama announced that the White House would issue a report next month “on how we’re keeping our promise to keep our country safe while strengthening privacy.”

The new report is expected to detail progress the Obama administration has made to curtail some of the most controversial programs at the National Security Agency in the last year.

Last January, as the administration was still reeling from Edward Snowden’s leaks about the spy agency, Obama proposed a set of changes to address civil libertarians’ biggest concerns.

In his speech on the NSA at the time, Obama outlined plans to reform the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records by requiring the agency to obtain a court order before searching its database of phone call metadata — such as the numbers people dial and when their calls occurred. He also limited analysts to checking numbers two steps away from a suspected terrorist, instead of three.

Obama also called for changes in the law, which Congress has so far been unable to finalize.

A bill in the Senate came two votes shy of overcoming a procedural hurdle last year, killing the issue for the year. That has set up a battle early this year, ahead of the June 1 sunset of central provisions of the Patriot Act that authorize the NSA’s phone records program and other operations.