President Barack Obama has announced he has ordered curbs on the use of bulk data collected by all US intelligence agencies, saying civil liberties must be respected.
Barack Obama said such data had prevented terror attacks at home and abroad, but that in tackling threats the government risked over-reaching itself.
However, civil liberties groups have said the changes do not go far enough.
The announcement follows global anger after details of the work of the National Security Agency were leaked.
Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked the information, is wanted in the US for espionage and is now living in exile in Russia.
The leaked documents revealed that the US collects massive amounts of electronic data from communications of private individuals around the world, and that it has spied on foreign leaders.
The latest revelations claim that US agencies have collected and stored almost 200 million text messages every day across the globe.
In his much-anticipated speech at the Department of Justice, Barack Obama said he would not apologize for the effectiveness of US intelligence operations, and insisted that nothing he had seen indicated they had sought to break the law.
It was necessary for the US to continue collecting large amounts of data, he said, but acknowledged that doing so allowed for “the potential of abuse”.
“The reforms I’m proposing today should give the American people greater confidence that their rights are being protected, even as our intelligence and law enforcement agencies maintain the tools they need to keep us safe,” he said.
Details of the times, numbers and durations of phone calls – known as metadata – are currently collected and held by the NSA. However, Barack Obama said he was ending that system “as it currently exists”.
He has asked the attorney general and the intelligence community to draw up plans for such metadata to be held by a third party, with the NSA required to seek legal permission before it could access them.
A panel of independent privacy advocates would also sit on the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) which has responsibility for giving permission for mass surveillance programmes.
Barack Obama also offered assurances to non-Americans, saying people around the world “should know that the United States is not spying on ordinary people who don’t threaten our national security”.
“This applies to foreign leaders as well,” he said, promising that from now on the US “will not monitor the communications of heads of state and government of our close friends and allies”.
That announcement follows revelations that the US had spied on friendly foreign leaders, including the personal mobile of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Barack Obama was also critical of nations he said “feign surprise” over the leaks but “privately acknowledge that America has special responsibilities as the world’s only superpower” and have used the information gathered for their own purposes.
The president said he would not “dwell on Mr. Snowden’s actions or his motivations”, but warned that the “sensational way” the NSA details had come to light had potentially jeopardized US operations “for years to come”.
Civil liberties groups see Edward Snowden as a hero for exposing what they see as official intrusions into private lives, but many Americans believe he has endangered American lives.
[youtube 6XZLan1VkcY 650]
[youtube p4MKm2uFqVQ 650]