Obama formally proposes end to NSA’s bulk collection of telephone data


The Obama administration on Thursday formally proposed ending the National Security Agency's bulk collection of all US phone data.

Nearly 10 months after the Guardian exposed the controversial program, based on leaks from Edward Snowden, President Obama announced that he would seek legislation that would require the NSA to seek an individual order from the secret Fisa court before phone companies turn over data on their customers.

"I have decided that the best path forward is that the government should not collect or hold this data in bulk," Obama said in a statement. "Instead, the data should remain at the telephone companies for the length of time it currently does today."

The move goes further than Obama’s position on bulk surveillance in January, when the president left the door open to the possibility of the data being held by a private-sector third party. That position was vigorously opposed by the phone companies and criticised by proponents and critics of the NSA alike.

Bulk phone data would no longer be collected by NSA under the latest proposals. Instead phone companies would, in response to a court order, turn over a suspicious phone number as well as all the numbers it called and received, and all numbers those numbers called and received, on an “ongoing and prospective basis”, according to an administration official.

The administration has yet to decide on a specific time limitation for querying the data, but “there would be some limited time period,” the official told reporters on Thursday. “That’s something we’re going to have to talk with Congress about.”

The Obama administration is seeking legislation to enact the changes, but it has not settled between competing proposals currently before Congress.

“I am confident that this approach can provide our intelligence and law enforcement professionals the information they need to keep us safe while addressing the legitimate privacy concerns that have been raised,” Obama said.

But the NSA is not yet out of the business of harvesting phone data in bulk, which it has done in secret in various forms since late 2001. The administration said it would seek approval from the Fisa court to continue the programs for another 90-day period under restrictions in place since January, until Congress passes a bill along the administration’s guidelines.

A senior administration official indicated that the legal standard by which the court could order phone companies to turn over customer data would be a "reasonable articulable suspicion" of a phone number’s connection to terrorism or espionage. That is a lower threshold..

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/27/obama-proposes-end-nsa-bulk-data-collection