The Obama administration will submit a plan to Congress Friday to end the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection program, the New York Times reported Monday night. If approved by Congress, the changes could take effect in as soon as 90 days.
Reuters cited an unnamed "senior official" confirming the Times report.
The new plan would stop the NSA from gathering massive troves of data from phone companies as it currently does. Instead, the NSA will have to seek a special court order that would require telecoms companies to provide records in a timely fashion.
The proposal comes two months after President Barack Obama gave Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department 60 days to find a solution to the bulk data collection issue that has exploded since former NSA contractor's Edward Snowden's revelations last year. Many of the changes echo the president’s January recommendations.
According to the Times, the changes would most directly affect what’s called “Program 215,” which was legal under the Patriot Act’s Section 215. Section 215 authorizes the NSA to collect and store a huge database of metadata.
Metadata, as the bipartisan Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board calls it, “typically include much of the information that appears on a customers’s telephone bill: date and time of a call, its duration, and the participating telephone numbers.”
As of now, the NSA is authorized to collect almost all metadata from service providers, regardless of whether it is relevant to their mission. At this point, NSA officials first need to clear access to this data, but there were numerous instances where this privilege was abused.
The new proposal would still allow NSA some leeway allowing them to branch out from their approved records by two callers, meaning if your records were brought up, the NSA could look at the data of someone you’ve called and then someone that person has called.
Obama ordered two immediate changes to NSA procedure in January. He made it so analysts could only “hop” up to two callers instead of three, and that they would have to convince a judge that those extended numbers deserve scrutiny.
Phone companies will only be required to hold onto the data for 18 months, per normal government regulations. No word whether or not the NSA will be able to demand records in an emergency situation with a review made after the fact, which the president approved of in January.
The metadata collection program has stirred protest amongst the public and some politicians, as it was the program that directly collected data on American citizens who weren’t suspected of any crime.
Three of five members of the PCLOB called Program 215 illegal in January and said along with ending the program, the NSA should “purge the database of telephone records that have been collected and stored during the program's operation.” It appears Obama has taken at least some of their advice.