News / USA

Obama Unveils Plan to End Bulk Phone Data Collection

An undated aerial handout photo shows the National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters building in Fort Meade, Maryland.
An undated aerial handout photo shows the National Security Agency (NSA) headquarters building in Fort Meade, Maryland.
VOA News
U.S. President Barack Obama has put forward his plan to end the government's massive collection and storage of phone data, a practice that has drawn criticism in the United States and abroad.

Obama's proposal calls for phone companies to hold the data for the same amount of time they currently do. Government agencies would seek approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) in order to access the data.

In a statement Thursday, the president put forward his plans, which need congressional approval.

The measure would allow federal agencies to obtain phone records without court approval in emergency situations. But senior administration officials say federal investigators would have to follow up with the court within a set time period.

The plan also calls for phone companies to provide technical assistance to ensure the information is transmitted in a usable format and timely manner.

The proposed changes were prompted by revelations made by former national security contractor Edward Snowden.  Last year, he leaked thousands of documents to journalists about clandestine U.S. surveillance programs, the extent of which surprised many people around the world.

In a Thursday statement, Obama said he believed his approach would "best assure" the United States had information to meet intelligence needs while "enhancing public confidence" in how information is collected and held.

The current U.S. authorization program expires on Friday.  Senior administration officials say Obama has directed the Department of Justice to seek a 90-day reauthorization of the existing program to give Congress time to address his proposals.

House Intelligence Committee leaders have introduced a similar plan that also bars the National Security Agency from the bulk collection of phone records.  But it does not require the government to obtain a court order before asking phone companies for the data.

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