Obama to End NSA's Bulk Collection of Phone Data
Monday, 24 Mar 2014 10:06 PM
By Cathy Burke
The most contentious part of the National Security Agency's secret dragnet of Americans' phone data is about to end, reports said Monday night.
The New York Times reported Monday night that the Obama administration is ready to unveil proposed legislation that would keep data on Americans' phone calling habits with their phone companies.
And the companies wouldn't have to store the information for any longer than they normally would, The Times reported.
The proposed changes from the White House comes as a bipartisan measure from Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R., Mich.) and his Democratic counterpart, Maryland Democratic Rep. C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger also is ready for introduction, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The House Intelligence measure would ban the bulk hauling of phone, email and Internet records by the government; instead, it would outsource the database queries to phone firms, The Journal reported.
"The public feels very strongly that the NSA was infringing on their civil liberties. That was not the case," Ruppersberger told The Journal.
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The proposed bill, he said, is aimed at restoring public trust, and would add "checks and balances" to the phone-data program.
The Journal reported the bill's approach would be more "comprehensive" than the current spy agency program, covering both landline and cellphone records. The NSA program covers calling data — but not conversations — on about 20 percent of U.S. phone calls, The Journal reported.
The bill would require the secret national security court known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to approve the new program and re-authorize its structure annually. The court's order would require phone companies to comply.
Under this measure, a phone company would search its databases for a phone number under an individual "direcive" from the government.
Then it would send the spy agency a list of numbers called from that phone number — and, possibly, lists of numbers those phones had called.
The NSA would send a copy of each directive to the surveillance court for review, and companies could object to a specific directive, The Journal reported.
The Obama administration proposal, by contrast, would retain a judicial role in determining whether there was enough suspicion on a particular number before the NSA could get related records, The Times reported.
The administration’s proposal would also include a provision clarifying whether Section 215 of the Patriot Act, due to expire next year unless Congress reauthorizes it, may in the future be legitimately interpreted as allowing bulk data collection of telephone data, The Times reported.
The Washington Post reported the Intelligence Committee measure will be introduced Tuesday.
“We believe this can be the solution for those of us who want to preserve important national security capabilities while heeding the legitimate concerns of many that the collection of bulk telephone metadata has a potential for abuse,” Rogers told The Post.
Rogers and Ruppersberger said their bill took months of work, and included talks with the administration and phone companies in the "hope ... this legislation can be the compromise vehicle that arrives at the president’s desk.”
“The most important thing is getting the public’s confidence that their government is out there protecting them against terrorist attacks” while respecting privacy and increasing transparency," Ruppersberger told The Post.
President Obama announced in January he wanted big changes in the phone data collection without hamstringing the NSA from keeping tabs on terrorists.
He'd also set a deadline — which ends Friday — for the Department of Justice and intelligence officials to come up with a plan. Friday is when a current court order authorizing the phone data collection expires, The Times noted.
Specifically, the administration wants phone companies to keep the bulk records of their customers for 18 months, as they do now, and seeks to preserve its ability to see certain records in specific circumstances approved by a judge, The Times reported. But no longer would the NSA systematically collect the phone data and hold it for five years.
The administration plans to renew the bulk phone-records program as it now exists for at least three more months, the Times said.
Phone companies had objected strenuously to any mandate that they hold on to bulk records longer than they already do.
“We have many questions about the details, but we agree with the administration that the NSA's bulk collection of call records should end," Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union told the newspaper.
“As we’ve argued since the program was disclosed, the government can track suspected terrorists without placing millions of people under permanent surveillance.”
A competing bipartisan bill has been drafted by House Judiciary Committee member James Sensenbrenner (R., Wis.), The Journal noted.
That proposal would ban all bulk-records collection, and require both a judicial order for any request for phone or other records and proof it was part of an ongoing international terrorism probe, The Journal reported.
Sensenbrenner slammed the Intelligence Committee measure as "a convoluted bill that accepts the administration's deliberate misinterpretation of the law."
He also criticized it for limiting, but not ending, bulk collection.
Marc Rotenberg, the executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, told The Times the administration's proposal would provide a “sensible outcome, given the 215 program likely exceeded current legal authority and has not proved to be effective.”
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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