TODAY   |  January 18, 2014

Obama proposes changes to NSA following criticism

President Obama is hoping the changes he's announced to the government's surveillance program will reassure critics at home and abroad, but some argue the changes aren’t enough. NBC’s Kristen Welker reports.

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>>> sweeping changes that could be coming to the way this country spies on its citizens and allies. reactions pouring in fast over president obama 's recommendations to change the government's controversial intelligence-gathering methods. kristen welker is live at the white house to tell us more about that. kristen , good morning.

>> reporter: lester, good morning to you. well, president obama is hoping the changes he's announced to the government's surveillance program will reassure critics at home and also abroad, but this morning, some argue the president actually punted on real reform. trying to pivot away from the thorny issue of surveillance, president obama is back talking up the economy this morning in his weekly address.

>> we're going to have to act to create good jobs that pay good wages and to offer more americans a fair shot to get ahead.

>> reporter: but the debate in washington is still swirling around the president's call for changes to the government's surveillance programs, much of it exposed by edward snowden .

>> i believe we need a new approach.

>> reporter: speaking at the justice department , mr. obama announced several reforms friday, saying the government should no longer store mass phone records and calling on the attorney general to recommend an alternative method. he also announced records can only be accessed through a court order , and he banned spying on foreign allies, unless there is a national security risk.

>> the reforms i'm proposing today should give the american people greater confidence that their rights are being protected.

>> reporter: reaction was swift. house speaker john boehner accused the president of failing to adequately explain the necessity of these programs. privacy advocates, senators ron wyden and mark udall , called for more restraint on the nsa and some in the intelligence community expressed concern that national security could be weakened.

>> this is fraught with peril for anyone in the private sector to do this.

>> reporter: the vast collection of data was put in place after the september 11th attacks , and as a candidate in 2008 , mr. obama was a harsh critic of the program. now, as president, he is learning how hard it is to rein in entrenched techniques and to quiet search a large political firestorm.

>> the white house really viewed it as urgent to get this nsa issue, if not completely resolved, bottled up, contained and moved into some other forum so the president can get on to talk about the other issues he wants to address.

>> reporter: now, some edward snowden supporters say the president's announcement is vindication for snowden . in his speech, the president said snowden had brought more heat rather than light to the debate, and he defended the surveillance program, saying it's never abused its power but said change is necessary to prevent the possibility of future abuse. lester.

>> all right, kristen . thank you.