You know the pressure is on when a speech begins "At the dawn of our Republic..." Below is the full video of Obama's NSA speech, and here's the full transcript.
President Obama tried to put some nuance into the conversation, saying that secret intelligence has always been a part of America's history, but that intelligence agencies also have "an inevitable bias...to collect more information about the world." That bias, he said, demands checks and balances. The speech is full of flips between Obama the man and Obama the president, which causes passages like this to happen:
Now, to say that our intelligence community follows the law and is staffed by patriots is not to suggest that I or others in my administration felt complacent about the potential impact of these programs.
Or passages like this one:
Given the unique power of the state, it is not enough for leaders to say: Trust us. We won’t abuse the data we collect. For history has too many examples when that trust has been breached. Our system of government is built on the premise that our liberty cannot depend on the good intentions of those in power. It depends on the law to constrain those in power.
The conclusions that President Obama reached aren't sexy, and they're not going to make anyone completely happy. They require agencies to go through an additional step of gaining clearance from a secret court before getting access to the phone metadata. Nobody's going to be thrilled to hear the words "secret court" in a solution. But he also calls for the end of the metadata plan as it currently exists and creation of "a mechanism that preserves the capabilities we need without the government holding this bulk metadata." There's also a sop to foreign leaders who have been offended by our international spying program:
...people around the world, regardless of their nationality, should know that the United States is not spying on ordinary people who don’t threaten our national security and that we take their privacy concerns into account in our policies and procedures.
This applies to foreign leaders as well.
It's a complicated issue, and the speech was far-reaching and intelligent, addressing criticisms and offering solutions. But the debate isn't over, and nobody is going to go to sleep tonight more satisfied on this issue than they were when they woke up this morning.