The National Security Agency may be getting out of the business of sweeping up and storing vast data on people’s phone calls.
According to The New York Times, the Obama administration this week will propose that Congress overhaul the once-secret electronic surveillance program to eliminate practices that set off alarms among privacy advocates and drew sharp criticism from many in Congress and abroad.
Specifically, the administration wants phone companies to keep the bulk records of their customers for 18 months, as they do now, and seeks to preserve its ability to see certain records in specific circumstances approved by a judge, says the report, which cited unidentified administration officials. But no longer would the NSA systematically collect the phone data and hold it for five years.
Change won’t happen right away. The administration plans to renew the bulk phone-records program as it now exists for at least three more months, the Times says. Phone companies had objected strenuously to any mandate that they hold on to bulk records longer than they already do.
President Barack Obama instructed the Justice Department and intelligence officials months ago to come up with a plan by Friday to change the surveillance program in ways that addressed privacy concerns but retained essential counterterrorism tools.
Under the administration’s pending legislative proposal, officials would have to obtain phone records by getting individual orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the Times report said.
The new court orders would require companies to provide those records swiftly and to make available continuing data related to the order when new calls are placed or received.
Details of the phone collection program came out last year as part of the cascading revelations leaked by former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden.