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AT&T CEO says awaiting clarity on U.S. surveillance rules

AT&T's Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson speaks during a news conference at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, February 25, 2013. REU
AT&T's Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson speaks during a news conference at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, February 25, 2013. REU

By Alina Selyukh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - AT&T Inc CEO Randall Stephenson said on Wednesday he was anxious to hear details of President Barack Obama's proposals to reform U.S. surveillance programs, hoping for more clarity on the rules guiding the data collection operations.

Obama is slated on Friday to unveil proposed reforms of National Security Agency surveillance programs, potentially including its once-secret program to collect metadata of billions of domestic and foreign telephone calls, whose existence was disclosed last year by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

A presidential review panel recommended that the controversial bulk phone metadata collection program be reformed by having telecommunications companies or private third parties, rather than the NSA, record and store the data.

"At the end of the day, the data needs to be provided only pursuant to court order or a subpoena or a warrant, so where the data is housed probably isn't that important as long as the rules are clarified and we know exactly what we're looking at," Stephenson told reporters on Wednesday.

"I'm anxious to see what the President brings to it on Friday and I'd just like to see more clarity to it," he said, speaking at a Christian Science Monitor event in Washington.

White House officials have said Obama was likely to announce measures to curb or restrict spying on foreign leaders, upgrade intelligence sharing with allies, and potentially allow privacy advocates to appear routinely before the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Some of the potential changes face opposition of that court. In meetings with legislators, Obama indicated he had no plan to abandon telephone metadata collection - as bills introduced by Senate and House Judiciary committee chairmen would do.

But it is unclear whether the President will propose changes to the bulk phone metadata collection, as his review panel recommended.

Security officials have warned that storing data outside the NSA could slow down intelligence operations in a crisis. They have also demanded that NSA continue to have direct and instant online access to telephone metadata even if responsibility for storing it is turned over to phone companies or another private entity.

(Reporting by Alina Selyukh and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Bernard Orr)

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