The New York Times reports that President Obama will soon detail a legislative proposal that will "drastically overhaul" the program that saw the National Security Agency collecting bulk phone-call records of private citizens. The proposal will see the data remaining in the hands of phone companies — who would not be required to hold on to the data longer than they usually would — and kept away from the NSA unless the agency had proof a specific call had links to terrorism.
At present, the NSA can retain phone data for five years. The New York Times says Obama's administration will renew that program for "at least one more 90-day cycle," but plans to halt it and replace it with the new scheme soon afterwards. Under the new plan, the NSA would not be allowed to collect and store all call data, instead being forced to get orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in order to obtain call data on specific phone numbers, after having made sure that a judge agrees those numbers are linked to terrorism.
The proposal would see call data remaining in the hands of phone companies
The proposal comes after President Obama promised to "end the [bulk phone-record collection] program as it currently exists" during a wide-ranging speech on NSA reforms in January. Obama gave the intelligence community, including the attorney general and the NSA itself, until March 28th to come up with a scheme that would achieve his administration's aims. A government watchdog and an NSA reform panel both also suggested that the program should be stopped, with some of the watchdog's members arguing that the indiscriminate collection of phone records was illegal.
During his speech in January, Obama highlighted three recommendations for phone data: to move metadata away from the NSA; to ensure all data collected is relevant to an investigation, and to stop storing personal information. While the planned proposal would achieve these aims with regards to phone records, it would not affect other programs of bulk collection, including the CIA's orders that allow it to obtain records of money transfers. Nor does the proposal address many of the wider privacy concerns highlighted by Edward Snowden's leaks, such as the NSA's collection of web data, or the agency's efforts to crack the private networks at Google and Yahoo.