Report: Obama to unveil legislation to end NSA bulk phone data collection

Phone data will now be stored with telecommunications carriers rather than with the U.S. National Security Agency

The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama is set to propose legislation that will end the bulk collection of phone data by the U.S. National Security Agency, according to a newspaper report.

Under the proposed legislation, the NSA will stop collecting telephone metadata in bulk from telecommunications carriers, and the records will stay in the hands of the phone companies, the New York Times reported Monday.

The NSA will also be able to obtain specific records from the carriers only with permission from a judge using a new type of court order.

The proposed legislation will also let the government pursue phone calls that are two-steps removed from a number associated with a terrorist group, instead of the three hops previously authorized, according to the report.

The collection of bulk phone metadata by the NSA has been at the center of controversy after its former contractor Edward Snowden disclosed in June last year that the agency was collecting bulk phone records of Verizon customers in the U.S. The government admitted that a program existed for the collection of such data in bulk from carriers under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

In January, Obama promised to reform the bulk phone records collection program, with the goal being a new program that doesn't include the NSA holding on to the records. He wanted members of his administration to propose a new program by late March, when the phone records program would come up for reauthorization.

The government asked industry in February for information on whether commercially available services can provide a viable alternative to the government holding bulk phone records for the NSA program. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence said it was investigating alternative approaches "without the government holding the metadata, while maintaining the current capabilities of that system and the existing protections for U.S. persons."

Under the proposed legislation, phone companies will not be required to hold data for the five-year period that NSA now holds it. The companies will instead hold the records for 18 months as required by current federal regulations, thus avoiding a burden on carriers, the newspaper reported.

The administration proposal will join other legislation under consideration by the U.S. Congress including a proposal from the House Intelligence Committee. The committee bill would have the court authorize the program, but allow the NSA to issue subpoenas for specific phone records without previous judicial approval, the newspaper said, quoting people familiar with the draft proposal. The House Intelligence Committee bill is expected to be unveiled Tuesday, according to reports.

The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court will be asked to renew the program in its current form for at least another 90 days, according to the New York Times report. The extension is likely to be necessary as it would not be possible to have a new regime in place by the end of this month.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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