Intelligence officials have given President Barack Obama four options on how to reform the National Security Agency’s phone records data collection program, including three that would shift storage to a company or government agency, and one option that would end the program entirely, according to reports.
The Office of Director of National Intelligence and the Justice Department provided the options ahead of the March 28 deadline given to them by Obama in his January speech aiming to shift the phone records collection away from the NSA, The Wall Street Journal reports.
The NSA collects data on what phone numbers Americans call and for how long they speak from AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and Sprint Corp., so one option before Obama would require these companies to store the data for the NSA to access once it receives approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the Journal reports. The other options include for another government agency or a nongovernment entity to hold the data, while the final option would be to end the phone record collection and use other methods to collect data on potential terrorist threats, the Journal reports.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., told the Journal the phone company option does not have enough votes in Congress, and ardently supports the national security need to maintain the NSA’s phone record data collection.
Privacy advocates have also criticized the option of shifting the data collection to a phone company or a nongovernment entity, including Kevin Bankston, policy director of the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute, a think tank based in Washington, D.C.
"Mandating that phone companies or a third party retain years' worth of phone data just in case the government wants to look at it is not an 'overhaul' of or an 'end' to the NSA's bulk collection program, as some reports have described it," Bankston said. "It's just bulk collection by proxy."
The USA Freedom Act, introduced in October by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Patriot Act author Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., would end the NSA program by amending Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which authorizes the data collection. A vote on the bill is unlikely to happen this spring, Leahy’s office previously told U.S. News.
The Section 215 provision of the Patriot Act ends in June 2015 unless it is reauthorized by Congress. During a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Feb. 4, Sensenbrenner told Deputy Attorney General James Cole that the Obama administration should work with Congress to amend the surveillance powers of the NSA so the agency better observes civil liberties, or Congress might not reauthorize the provision in 2015.
"Unless Section 215 gets fixed, you, Mr. Cole, and the intelligence community will get absolutely nothing, because I am confident there are not the votes in this Congress to reauthorize it," Sensenbrenner said.