Obama Proposes to End NSA Phone Records Program

| Tue Mar. 25, 2014 1:40 AM EDT

After reviewing the NSA's bulk collection of phone metadata, President Obama plans to recommend that the program be terminated completely:

Under the proposal, they said, the N.S.A. would end its systematic collection of data about Americans’ calling habits. The bulk records would stay in the hands of phone companies, which would not be required to retain the data for any longer than they normally would. And the N.S.A. could obtain specific records only with permission from a judge, using a new kind of court order.

....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.

If this is right, the NSA's data collection would end, and phone companies would do nothing differently from what they do now except that they'd have to provide metadata in a specific format when they get a court order. That's hardly burdensome to the telcos, nor does it infringe civil liberties in any noticeable way.

This is better than I expected. But I wonder what Congress will do with the proposal. Will Republicans go along? Or, after months of griping about the NSA program—remember, eight months ago 94 of them voted to defund it—will they decide that they'd rather accuse the president of endangering the American public by ending a vital program? It's an election year, after all. Decisions, decisions....

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