The Obama administration has been presented with four wide-ranging options on how to reform the National Security Agency's (NSA) phone data collection program — including doing away with it altogether — according to a report from the Wall Street Journal. Citing officials close to the matter, the Journal reports that intelligence officials presented the options ahead of the March 28th deadline that President Barack Obama set forth in a speech about NSA reform earlier this year.
One proposal would be to put phone metadata collection under the purview of US telecommunications companies. Under this option, the NSA would inform the companies of when it needs to search their databases for terrorism-related investigations, and the phone companies would return only the results of those searches, rather than data on consumers unrelated to the investigations.
"we look forward to reviewing those options."
A second proposal would see a different federal agency hold the data — the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), for instance — and a third would place them under the control of a third entity that's neither a federal agency nor a telecom company. The final proposal would abolish the data collection program altogether, an option that Obama in January said would require more work "to determine exactly how this system might work."
A spokesperson from the White House National Security Council declined to comment on the proposals themselves, saying only that officials from intelligence agency and the Department of Justice have been working on developing new options.
"They have kept us abreast of their progress, and we look forward to reviewing those options," the spokesperson, Caitlin Hayden, told the Journal. "Beyond that, I'm not in a position to discuss the details of an ongoing process."
None of the four options reported this week have universal support. Phone company representatives tell the Journal that they have not been consulted on the proposal to charge them with controlling the data, while Representative Mike Rogers (R - MI) says it does not have enough support in the House of Representatives. Some intelligence experts have endorsed placing the program under the FBI, though others have suggested the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court as a candidate — something that has drawn rebuke from judges. Privacy groups, meanwhile, have criticized the proposal to create a separate agency, arguing that it would result in little substantive change, and doing away with the program altogether would dismay intelligence officials who see it as critical to ensuring national security.