Four months after the White House's review panel suggested similar changes, President Obama is finally ready to abandon the NSA's bulk collection of Americans' phone records. According to the White House's proposal, the records would stay with the phone companies for just 18 months; in order to access the data, the NSA would need to convince a judge in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that the information was pertinent to a specific investigation. As it the law is now, the NSA collects the records in bulk from the companies and stores them for five years.
The N.S.A. now retains the phone data for five years. But the administration considered and rejected imposing a mandate on phone companies that they hold on to their customers' calling records for a period longer than the 18 months that federal regulations already generally require — a burden that the companies had resisted shouldering and that was seen as a major obstacle to keeping the data in their hands. A senior administration official said that intelligence agencies had concluded that the operational impact of that change would be small because older data is less important.
Before the changes take place, the program will be renewed as is for 90 days. After that, provisions will be added to ensure that the NSA and intelligence agencies still have access to data deemed essential to their investigations. From the Times:
The new type of surveillance court orders envisioned by the administration would require phone companies to swiftly provide records in a technologically compatible data format, including making available, on a continuing basis, data about any new calls placed or received after the order is received, the officials said.
They would also allow the government to swiftly seek related records for callers up to two phone calls, or "hops," removed from the number that has come under suspicion, even if those callers are customers of other companies.
Meanwhile, the House Intelligence Committee is set to unveil its own proposal on Tuesday. Like the White House's plan, the House bill would keep the data with the phone companies and require oversight from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. From the Wall Street Journal:
Under the new bill, a phone company would search its databases for a phone number under an individual "directive" it would receive from the government. It would send the NSA a list of numbers called from that phone number, and possibly lists of phone numbers those numbers had called. A directive also could order a phone company to search its database for such calls as future records come in.
The NSA would send a copy of each directive to the surveillance court for review after records collection has begun, and companies could object to a specific directive.
[Image via AP]