No Consensus for Tech Firms on NSA Data Storage

Government requests opinions from tech industry on new approaches to phone data storage. 

Security Agency Monitored Device'  is seen at the Transmediale festival for art and digital culture on January 30, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. The festival and year-round project is an attempt to draw out new connections between art, culture and technology.  (Photo by Adam Berry/Getty Images)

Though frustrations over the NSA's surveillance practices remain, the U.S. is asking tech industry businesses for ideas on new ways to store phone data.

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The government is seeking the tech industry’s opinions on how to implement President Barack Obama's order to shift surveillance metadata out of the hands of the National Security Agency, as politicians and privacy advocates warn that tech firms should not be the new storage areas.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence published a request for information on Wednesday asking tech sector companies to offer opinions on how the government should work with businesses on this order while maintaining access to the data through court orders for security investigations. 

The request explained that the U.S. is considering whether a nongovernmental third party can accommodate access to and maintain of a large quantity of data. That third party would ideally be able to provide near real-time access to multiple data from their original source providers, the ability to secure the telephone metadata for “a sufficient period of time,” and maintain 99.9 percent availability” while ensuring that no data is provided to the government without authorization.

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Responses to this request are due Feb. 12, which may not include information on research efforts or bids from sources seeking to serve as third-party data storage providers. Obama in January tasked Attorney General Eric Holder and intelligence leaders to devise a plan before March 28 that would end the government's in-house bulk storage of American phone records while preserving its ability to search information for security purposes.

The NSA’s inability to collect the increasing rate of phone calls made on cellphones has diminished the total percent of U.S. calls collected by the agency, The Washington Post reports.

The agency collected records of nearly all calls made in 2006, but as of summer 2013 the total percentage of metadata collected plunged to less than 30 percent, current and former government officials told the Post. Even as the Obama administration is planning a way to divest government storage of the data, the NSA is planning to issue more court orders directed to telecoms to restore its metadata access to previous levels, the Post reports.

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During a hearing on Tuesday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said requiring tech companies to store the data instead of the government could cause more privacy concerns than it would solve. Privacy advocates including the American Civil Liberties Union have voiced the same concern.

"American technology companies are experiencing a lack of customer trust and a loss of international business as a result of the Snowden leaks based upon the fear that information about their customers is readily and routinely turned over to the American government," Goodlatte said. "I suspect requiring these companies to now house the data specifically so the government can access it will only reinforce those fears."