Nightly News   |  January 17, 2014

Obama Explains How NSA Should Work

Although Obama is calling for changes among US spy agencies, he defended the NSA’s mass collection of phone records.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> good evening. after huge and widespread leaks of sensitive information exposed an equally widespread data mining operation by the nsa, the nation's spy agency in washington, after much deliberation the president today decided to talk about how the operation works and how it should work. while he defended the techniques the government uses to protect its citizens and said there's no evidence of an abuse of power, he is calling for changes. it likely will not be enough for those who say these leaks have been proof that we have traded away our privacy in the electronic age . it's where we begin tonight with our chief foreign affairs correspondent, andrea mitchell .

>> reporter: today the president took the short trip from the white house to the justice department to issue new orders for the spy agency. even while saying they've broken no laws.

>> there are fewer and fewer technical constraints on what we can do. that places a special obligation on us to ask tough questions about what we should do.

>> reporter: mr. obama stoutly defended the mass collection of phone records but said the government would no longer store them itself, asking the attorney general to recommend alternatives. he proposed court orders before the records can be accessed. a panel of outside advocates to advise the secret intelligence court, and after an international furor over nsa eavesdropping on german leader angela merkel 's cell phone , and other leaders, no eavesdropping on dozens of friendly allies.

>> i want to know what they think about an issue, i'll pick up the phone and call them rather than turning to surveillance.

>> reporter: the pushback from all sides was immediate.

>> i hear him say, you know, if you like your privacy you can keep it, but i also hear him saying they're going to continue to collect your phone records, your text messages, your e-mails, and probably your credit card records, so i don't think anything's changing.

>> reporter: while a former nsa director defended the agency.

>> we aren't out there hoovering everything in the universe up for some interest. we are gathering data to make america more --

>> reporter: the vast collection was launched after 9/11 and the president says it is still needed. some of his allies want radical changes.

>> you propose no longer collecting all of these data.

>> i'm going to propose some significant limitations. i think we've reached the point where we say if we collect everything we're safe, no. if we collect everything, we have nothing.

>> reporter: many of these changes require action by a deeply divided congress and will be challenged in court as the nation continues to debate the difficult balance between privacy and national security , a debate inspired by one man really, the revelations of edward snowden.

>> andrea mitchell starting us off in our d.c. newsroom tonight,