NSA To End Collection Of American Phone Calls Under New Obama Plan

Jonathan Vankin

The NSA will stop collecting information about every phone call you make, if new legislation about to be set in motion by President Barack Obama is passed by the U.S. Congress. In January, Obama announced that he planned to stop the massive National Security Agency program that keeps records of hundreds of millions of phone calls placed by American citizens. Now he is moving to make that plan a reality.

A court order that allows the NSA to sweep up phone metadata — records of who called who and when, not actual recordings of phone conversations — expires on March 28, which is Friday of this week. Obama wants to keep a program in place that would allow the government to access data on potential terrorists, but not on ordinary American citizens.

Basically, according to an account in The New York Times which broke the story, the Obama proposal takes the NSA out of the business of collecting those phone records in the first place. Instead, it shifts the responsibility to private phone companies, who already store metadata on phone calls anyway. The phone companies would not be forced to hang on to the massive amounts of info for any longer period of time than they do now.

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However, with a special type of court order that would be created by the new NSA legislation, the government could gain access to the phone company data, if a particular caller comes under suspicion of terrorist activity.

Phone companies under the court orders would need to quickly supply the NSA with data on that specific caller, including any new calls made by the suspected person.

Phone companies typically store such data for 18 months. The NSA keeps those records for five years. But Obama reportedly nixed plans to require phone companies to hold on to the information longer than a year-and-a-half.

At the same time, House is working on its own bill to restrict the NSA data-collecting capabilities while also, in theory, allowing the government to keep tabs on phone activity by suspected terrorists.

The House bill bars the NSA from collecting data on a wholesale basis.

Protest against spying and surveillance

"This can be the solution for those of us who want to preserve important national security capabilities while heeding the legitimate concerns of many that the collection of bulk telephone metadata has a potential for abuse," said Republican Representative Mike Rogers, a sponsor of the House bill who is also a supporter of the NSA data collection efforts.

The House bill differs from the pending Obama plan in that it does not require the NSA to get a court order before reaching into a private phone company's storehouse of data.