The Obama administration is set to unveil a proposal this week that would overhaul the method by which the National Security Agency collects and stores data.
The news was first reported by The New York Times’ Charlie Savage. A senior administration official confirmed the planned proposal early Tuesday morning.
The coming legislative proposal would eliminate perhaps the most controversial aspect of the NSA’s collection methods — the government’s routine collection of America’s calling data. The proposed changes would serve as the biggest change to the agency since the massive disclosures about government surveillance from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden last year.
Under the legislation, which will have to be passed by Congress, the NSA would no longer collect and store so-called metadata from Americans’ phones in bulk.
The federal government would be required to obtain individual orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in order to get records from phone companies. The NSA currently retains phone data for five years, but under the proposal, phone companies would only be required to hold the data for 18 months.
As part of the proposal, the Obama administration would renew the collection program until Congress passes new legislation.
“As the President made clear in his speech on these issues in January, he directed his administration to explore all options available for ending the government’s role in holding this metadata while still maintaining as many capabilities of the program as possible,” a senior administration official said in an email.
“The President considered those options and in the coming days, after concluding ongoing consultations with Congress, including the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, will put forward a sound approach to ensuring the government no longer collects or holds this data, but still ensures that the government has access to the information it needs to meet the national security needs his team has identified. Until Congress passes new authorizing legislation, the President has directed his administration to renew the current program, as modified substantially by the President in his January speech.
The administration’s legislation will be introduced around the same time as a proposal from leaders of the House Intelligence Committee, which is expected to unveil its legislation on Tuesday.
In a January speech outlining NSA reforms, Obama called for an end to the NSA’s ability to store metadata while preserving its capability to access data when needed. As part of that, he instructed the Justice Department and the intelligence community to come up with a plan by March 28 — Friday.
Late last year, independent panel put forward a series of more than 40 recommendations of changes to existing surveillance programs. The panel recommended the government’s collection be replaced by a third party or the phone companies.
This post has been updated. It was originally posted at 10:30 p.m. ET on March 24.
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