The government will also allow companies like Google to disclose more statistics about the government's surveillance of their users.
Obama ordered the Justice Department to conduct an annual review and declassify all Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinions with "broad privacy implications."
The president also made a point of trying to placate foreign leaders:
The bottom line is that 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. This applies to foreign leaders as well. Given the understandable attention that this issue has received, I have made clear to the intelligence community that — unless there is a compelling national security purpose — we will not monitor the communications of heads of state and government of our close friends and allies.
At the same time, the president said that U.S. intelligence agencies "will continue to gather information about the intentions of governments — as opposed to ordinary citizens — around the world.... We will not apologize simply because our services may be more effective."
Obama's speech is the first to enumerate specific reforms to the NSA since Edward Snowden began leaking details about the agency's surveillance powers last June. The intelligence community has consistently defended its collection of phone records, which they contend is legally justified under Section 215 of the post-9/11 Patriot Act, as necessary to combat potential terror threats.
"Given the fact of an open investigation," Obama said, "I'm not going to dwell on Mr. Snowden's actions or motivations." But he did make clear his not-too-warm feelings:
I will say that our nation's defense depends in part on the fidelity of those entrusted with our nation's secrets. If any individual who objects to government policy can take it in their own hands to publicly disclose classified information, then we will never be able to keep our people safe, or conduct foreign policy.
The president, for his part, emphasized his "healthy skepticism" toward surveillance programs, and noted that his administration has increased oversight and auditing. He later mentioned that he would "not be where I am today were it not for the courage of dissidents, like Dr. King, who were spied on by their own government."
That sentiment, of course, stands in stark contrast to the massive spying program he has overseen. And times have changed:
"We cannot prevent terrorist attacks or cyberthreats," Obama said, "without some capability to penetrate digital communications."
The president also criticized unnamed countries for knocking the NSA's programs in light of the leaks:
We know that the intelligence services of other countries — including some who feign surprise over the Snowden disclosures — are constantly probing our government and private-sector networks, and accelerating programs to listen to our conversations, intercept our emails, or compromise our systems. Meanwhile, a number of countries, including some who have loudly criticized the NSA, privately acknowledge that America has special responsibilities as the world's only superpower; that our intelligence capabilities are critical to meeting these responsibilities; and that they themselves have relied on the information we obtain to protect their own people.