When NSA’s Bulk Collection Ends, What’s the White House’s New Plan?

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

New legislation is in the works from the Obama administration concerning NSA data collection — namely, ending the mass collection of phone data while still allowing the NSA to retain the functions it requires, according to senior administration officials in contact with The New York Times. The work is being done just ahead of the January deadline, and any proposal would still have to work its way through Congress.

The administration’s new plan would end the government bulk collection program and have the bulk records change hands to the phone companies instead, only kept for as long as the phone companies usually keep data. The NSA will then be able to request specific data after receiving judge permission with a newly created type of court order. In January, when the President gave his speech on intelligence reform, he discussed the changes to come as the administration worked to “establish a mechanism that preserves the capabilities we need without the government holding this bulk metadata.”

“This will not be simple,” said Obama. “The review group recommended that our current approach be replaced by one in which the providers or a third party retain the bulk records, with government access information as needed,” he said, outlining the solution being considered at present. However, at the time, he voiced concern that this “could require companies to alter their procedures in ways that raise new privacy concerns.” The stipulation that companies only retain data as long as they usually would seems to dodge that issue, avoiding problems that a separate third party could create.

Reform aside, the plan asks that the present system continue for an extension of 90 days, according to The New York Times, after which changes could start to be enacted. One difference for the NSA will be how long they’ll have access to phone data, reduced by the phone companies’ own time frame, when at present they hold on to the information for up to five years. A senior administration official told The New York Times that this shouldn’t prove to be a problem, as the change would not be significant in all likelihood since older information is less vital for operations.

“We have many questions about the details,” said Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union, to The New York Times. “But we agree with the administration that the NSA’s bulk collection of call records should end. As we’ve argued since the program was disclosed, the government can track suspected terrorists without placing millions of people under permanent surveillance.”

We believe this can be the solution for those of us who want to preserve important national security capabilities while heeding the legitimate concerns of many that the collection of bulk telephone metadata has a potential for abuse,” said Representative Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), who has long been a supporter of the NSA’s power to collect data, to The Washington Post.

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