President Barack Obama is expected to put forward a proposal that would end the National Security Agency’s collection of a huge amount of data on U.S. mobile calls, according to what an unnamed Obama administration official told Politico. The proposal is a familiar one: the NSA would eliminate the database of phone data it stores, instead relying on accessing the data from carriers who would be required to store it for up to 18 months. Federal regulations in place already support this data storage scheme.
The Obama Administration will ask the federal surveillance court to extend the NSA's current program for another 90 days while it waits for lawmakers to work out the details. The proposal comes right before the bipartisan leaders of the House Intelligence Committee were set to unveil legislation laying out a similar plan and before the Friday deadline Obama set a couple of months ago for Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to deliver a proposal.
A senior White House official, who asked not be named, said the following:
"As the President made clear in his speech on these issues in January, he directed his administration to explore all options available for ending the government’s role in holding this metadata while still maintaining as many capabilities of the program as possible," said the official, who also asked not to be named. "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, but still ensures that the government has access to the information it needs to meet the national security needs his team has identified."
Some lawmakers are not happy with what their peers are going to put forward, because it falls in line with the president's proposal, and does not "end" the program.
"Congress must pass a straightforward bill to address NSA overreach," Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) said in a statement Monday night. "The End Bulk Collection Act is a convoluted bill that accepts the administration’s deliberate misinterpretation of the law. It limits, but does not end, bulk collection. Provisions included in the draft fall well short of the safeguards in the USA FREEDOM Act and do not strike the proper balance between privacy and security. The End Bulk Collection Act will not have my support.”
Kevin Bankston of the New America Foundation, said Congress needs to truly end the NSA’s ability to gather information in bulk.
"Obama proposal to end bulk phone data program treats symptom rather than disease. Must fix law to prevent any/all bulk data collection," Bankston wrote on Twitter.
The head of the federal Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which recommended an end to the NSA’s program, said that the administration seemed to be headed in the direction the group urged.
"The Board previously met with Administration officials as they were considering which recommendations to make to the President. If the reports are correct, the approach would follow the recommendations of the majority of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board that, in order to balance national security with privacy and civil liberties, the bulk collection program should be ended and, instead, the intelligence community should shift to making specific requests for records to the phone companies," board chairman David Medine said.
Even if the President's proposal completely eliminated the bulk surveillance and collection of mobile phone data, it does nothing to address the myriad of other programs that the NSA has been engaged in. How the administration and lawmakers plan to deal with other surveillance programs which seem not to be approved by the FISA court, remains to be seen.
We will have more on this story as it develops.