US review panel urges wide-ranging NSA spying overhaul

WASHINGTON - US legal and intelligence experts ordered by President Barack Obama to review National Security Agency practices on Wednesday called for a sweeping overhaul of US surveillance programs while preserving "robust" intelligence capabilities.

The five-member panel of advisers also urged reforms at a secret national security court and an end to bulk retention of telephone "metadata" by the spy agency, by keeping those records in private hands subject to specific queries from the NSA or law enforcement.

The 308-report also called for "significant steps" to be taken "to protect the privacy of non-US persons," and urged more cooperation with allies to avoid the diplomatic fallout from revelations of US intelligence gathering.

Obama commissioned the review panel report earlier this year in the wake of explosive revelations by fugitive intelligence contractor Edward Snowden on the stunning scope of the NSA's operations.

"It is now time to step back and take stock," the panel said in its report, which was submitted last week to the White House and released publicly Wednesday.

"We conclude that some of the authorities that were expanded or created in the aftermath of September 11 unduly sacrifice fundamental interests in individual liberty, personal privacy, and democratic governance," it said.

The panel said it hoped its recommendations would "strike a better balance between the competing interests in providing for the common defence and securing 'the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity'."

The review board steered away from calling for outright curbs on intelligence on foreign leaders, but said any such surveillance must be based on real security threats and be approved at the highest levels.

"This process should identify both the uses and the limits of surveillance on foreign leaders and in foreign nations," the report said.

Richard Clarke, a former White House counterterrorism aide who is a member of the review board, said, "We are not saying the struggle against terrorism is over."

But Clarke, who joined other review board members at a briefing, added there were "mechanisms that can be more transparent, can have more independent oversight" and cited the need to "give the public a sense of trust that goes beyond what it is today."

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