President Obama said Tuesday he will propose a plan that would require the National Security Agency to stop collecting phone data in bulk, and to obtain court permission before seeking any specific information. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court would grant the permission.
The plan also would require phone companies to provide the NSA with information about new phone calls involving numbers the agency has targeted. However, the companies would not be required to maintain phone call data any longer than normal. Currently, the NSA holds phone-related data for five years, but the phone companies would only be required to hold it, under current regulations, for 18 months.
Phone companies would be required to quickly provide the record data when requested, in a compatible format.
Legislation by Friday
Obama told a news conference in The Netherlands, where he is attending the Nuclear Security Summit, that the plan would provide enough information to protect against terrorist attacks while also protecting privacy. The wholesale collection of phone and Internet data by the NSA has come under attack from a wide spectrum of political voices.
The plan, he said, "allows us to do what is necessary in order to deal with the dangers of a terrorist attack, but does so in a way that addresses some of the concerns that people have raised."
A legislative proposal detailing the plan is expected to be made public soon. In January, the president proposed to reform how the NSA conducts its surveillance business, after revelations of bulk collection of American phone and Internet records were made public in documents that ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden had stolen and leaked to news media.
The goal from the Administration is to write a proposed bill by Friday. Obama said the plan presented by officials at the Justice Department and from the intelligence community appears to meet the necessary needs of security and privacy.
Another plan in the House from the top Republican and Democratic representatives -- Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberg (D - Md.) -- on the House Intelligence Committee was also introduced Tuesday. It would similarly end bulk collection of data by the NSA, with collection also being done as normal by the phone companies.
But it would not require the Surveillance Court's approval before specific records could be sought. Instead, judicial consent could be granted after data was obtained.
Some privacy advocates have given partial thumbs up to each proposal. The Washington, D.C.-based Center for Democracy and Technology, for instance, praised both plans' proposed ending of bulk data collection. But it criticized the House plan for not requiring the NSA to first get court approval before obtaining records, and pointed out that the president's plan appears to involve only phone records. The NSA has also been collecting bulk Internet data, for instance.