Obama said to announce legislation halting NSA’s phone record collecting

Major legislative proposals to the government’s surveillance programs -- specifically those that gather bulk call data on US residents -- are expected to be revealed this week.

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President Barack Obama. Martin LaMonica/CNET

The days of the National Security Agency's bulk phone record collecting could be coming to an end. According to The New York Times, the Obama administration is planning to reveal new legislative proposals this week that could curb some of the NSA's most controversial practices.

Civil liberty activists, tech companies, and several lawmakers have been up in arms about the NSA's mass surveillance programs that were exposed by Edward Snowden's top-secret document leaks beginning last year. This leak uncovered the NSA's Section 215 and PRISM programs, which were geared toward collecting data on US residents via cellular records and metadata from Internet companies.

The Obama administration is expected to specifically address the Section 215 program this Friday, according to the Times. The Section 215 program has allowed the NSA to gather and keep bulk phone data on US residents for up to five years. The agency has maintained that the program was set up to track down foreign terrorists and terrorist threats.

The American Civil Liberties Union has said it'll likely support the Obama administration's possible legislative changes to the Section 215 program.

"We have many questions about the details, but we agree with the administration that the NSA's bulk collection of call records should end," ACLU's Jameel Jaffer told the Times. "As we've argued since the program was disclosed, the government can track suspected terrorists without placing millions of people under permanent surveillance."

The proposed changes to the program would purportedly let phone companies keep users' phone records, rather than handing them over to the NSA, according to the Times. If the agency wanted to see any records, it's said it would be required to get a court order from a judge.

President Obama alluded to these changes during a speech in January. He said his decision would be based on reform proposals made by a presidential review group -- made up of lawmakers, intelligence officials, and technology company executives -- which was created to address the NSA's surveillance programs. Obama suggested that requiring the NSA to get a court order for the data could help guard against the potential for government abuse of data.

"It is not enough for leaders to say, 'Trust us, we won't abuse the data we collect,'" Obama said during the speech, "for history has too many examples when that trust has been breached. Our system of government is built on the premise that our liberty cannot depend on the good intentions of those in power; it depends upon the law to constrain those in power."

Obama is expected to announce the changes to the Section 215 program on Friday, which is when the court order that originally authorized the program expires, according to the Times.

While it appears that changes to the NSA's surveillance programs are afoot, they likely won't happen for a few more months. According to the Times, the Obama administration is planning to first ask the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to renew the Section 215 program for another 90-day cycle before making major modifications. Additionally, in order for proposed legislation to get passed, it would still need approval from Congress.

 

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