President Calls for End to NSA’s Bulk Phone Metadata Collection… Sort Of

Today President Obama issued a statement announcing plans to push for an adjustment to the National Security Agency's collection of phone metadata, but opponents say his suggestions may not go far enough. The White House offered support for legislation to end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection, instead putting the data into the care of phone companies. Service providers would hold the data for 18 months and give the NSA access to it only on a specific target and only after it gets a court order from Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

The White House proposal contains an exemption that would allow the government to get phone records without a court order in a vaguely described "emergency situation." That emergency situation, along with other details would have to be worked out by lawmakers. The President added in his statement that he hopes Congress would act quickly on this issue. He also said that he would ask for a court order to continue the existing program for another 90 days in the meantime.

"I believe this approach will best ensure that we have the information we need to meet our intelligence needs while enhancing public confidence in the manner in which the information is collected and held," President Obama said of the new proposal.

A bill sponsored by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and ranking member Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) would keep the phone data in the hands of private telecommunications companies, but without a mandate to retain it for longer than 18 months. The proposal would also allow government agents to search a particular record without requiring a court order.

Meanwhile, Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) told The Hill that he would not rule out pushing his amendment to end the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection. For now he will take a "wait and see approach."

"We don’t have enough information about the administration’s proposal to really understand where they’re going with it," Amash said Wednesday.

"We’ve seen some of what the House Intelligence Committee has put out. … Based on what I’ve read about it, it appears to expand the NSA’s authority," he said. "It doesn’t end bulk collection but actually puts more Americans in danger of having their constitutionally protected rights violated."

Amash told The Hill that he wants the Judiciary Committee to pass Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr.’s (R-Wis.) "USA Freedom Act," which goes further than the administration and Intelligence leaders to curb the NSA’s surveillance programs. The bill from Sensenbrenner, who was a primary author of the 2001 Patriot Act, would stop the bulk collection of phone records and require data collection to be tied to a specific investigation.

"I’d like to see comprehensive legislation like the USA Freedom Act go forward," he said. "We are certainly willing to consider adding ideas from the Intelligence Committee, from the administration, to that legislation, but if no legislation is going to go forward to protect the rights of Americans, then I’m certainly open to offering further amendments."

The House is expected to take up the Defense authorization bill this spring.

Source: The Hill

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