Privacy advocates and NSA critics are in no way jumping for joy, but news that both the Obama administration and lawmakers in Congress are circulating new proposals for ending the bulk collection of U.S. phone data has some nodding cautious approval as others point out that the proposals are an acknowledgement that the NSA has gone too far and that no consideration of revamping the current programs would be happening without the public outrage that followed the disclosure of the program by a former NSA employee.
The existence of the bulk spying effort by the NSA, under what critics call a “stretched” interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, was a well-guarded secret until leaks provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden to journalists last year put the program in the public spotlight.
Reporting from the New York Times on Tuesday, based on information provided by unnamed “senior White House officials,” says that the Obama administration rule changes would force the NSA to “end its systematic collection of data about Americans’ calling habits.”
Instead of the agency itself automatically collecting all phone records in bulk, according to the Times, the so-called phone metadata records—which include time and place of outgoing calls and their destination—”would stay in the hands of phone companies, which would not be required to retain the data for any longer than they normally would. And the N.S.A. could obtain specific records only with permission from a judge, using a new kind of court order.”
Journalists who have followed the Snowden revelations closely were crediting Snowden for making even the idea of NSA reform possible at the very highest levels of government:
Speaking to the Times, the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer said, “We have many questions about the details, but we agree with the administration that the N.S.A.’s bulk collection of call records should end.” He added, “As we’ve argued since the program was disclosed, the government can track suspected terrorists without placing millions of people under permanent surveillance.”
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