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White House unveils plan to end bulk collection of phone data by NSA

By Reuters
Thursday, March 27, 2014 10:55 EDT
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Barack Obama (AFP)
 
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By Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Obama administration on Thursday announced details of its plan to end the government’s vast bulk collection of data about phone calls made in the United States, including new procedures to get judicial approval before asking phone companies for such records.

Under the plan, telephone companies would have to provide data from their records quickly and in a usable format when requested by the government, a senior administration official told reporters. It would also allow the government to seek the data without a court order in a national security emergency.

“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,” President Barack Obama said in a statement about the plan, which needs approval from Congress.

Obama has been under pressure to rein in surveillance since former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden last year disclosed classified details about how the government gathers intelligence, sparking an international uproar about privacy rights.

He announced his initial response to the debate in January, including a ban on eavesdropping on the leaders of allied nations.

On Thursday, the administration provided additional details about its plans for telephone records known as metadata. Such records document which telephone number called which other number, when the calls were made and how long they lasted. Metadata does not include the content of the calls.

Under the proposal, once the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approves gathering records associated with a phone number, phone companies could be required to turn over data associated with that number on an “ongoing and prospective” basis, a senior administration official said on a conference call.

Companies would be compelled to provide technical assistance to the government to query the records, and may be compensated in a way that is consistent with current procedures, the official said.

The administration will ask the court to allow it to operate its existing program for at least another 90 days, as Congress weighs legislation.

“We would hope that the Congress would take something up very expeditiously,” the official said.

(Additional reporting by Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Susan Heavey and David Storey)

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