Obama to Propose Ending NSA Bulk Collection of Phone Records

Barack Obama stands for ending NSA’s phone recording.

The National Security Agency may stop sweeping up and storing vast amounts of data on people’s phone calls. Photo: The White House/Flickr

President Barack Obama unveiled his plans to urge Congress to end the bulk collection and storage of phone records obtained by the NSA but allow the government to access the “metadata” when needed, a senior administration official said on Monday.

If the American lawmakers approve the president’s proposal, the Obama administration would stop collecting the information, known as metadata, which includes records of millions of phone calls made withing the borders of the United States only.

Recording phone data caused a national debate over privacy rights when the extent of the surveillance program was exposed last year by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

“Instead, the government would have to get permission from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to review data about the time and duration of telephone calls that it believes may be connected to terror attacks, according to the New York Times, which first reported the plan,” informs Reuters.

Obama, who on Monday met with world leaders in the Hague, has been grappling with a backlash to U.S. government surveillance programs since classified details about the extent of data-gathering were first leaked by the world’s famous whistleblower.

The U.S. leader has previously defended use of the data to protect Americans from attacks. His plan seeks to hold on to “as many capabilities of the program as possible” while ending the government’s role in controlling the database, the official said on background.

“The president considered those options and in the coming days, after concluding ongoing consultations with Congress, including the Intelligence and Judiciary committees, will put forward a sound approach to ensuring the government no longer collects or holds this data,” the official said in a statement.

It should be noted that the U.S. president has already made some important decisions about changes to the programs in January, including a ban on eavesdropping on the leaders of friendly or allied nations.

“This will not be simple,” Obama said. An independent review panel suggested that collecting the phone records should be replaced by a third party or the phone companies holding the records, and the government would access them as needed.

“Both of these options pose difficult problems,” Obama said in January. “Relying solely on the records of multiple providers, for example, could require companies to alter their procedures in ways that raise new privacy concerns.”

However, Obama had charged his Attorney General Eric Holder and intelligence agencies to make additional proposals for the metadata program by March 28, when it comes up for reauthorization.

Leaders of the House intelligence committee are expected to introduce legislation Tuesday that would call for a similar option to the Obama administration’s.

“Under the administration’s pending legislative proposal, officials would have to obtain phone records by getting individual orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court,” The Huffington Post reports.

“The new court orders would require companies to provide those records swiftly and to make available continuing data related to the order when new calls are placed or received.”

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