The White House has reportedly received a proposal suggesting four ways to overhaul the National Security Agency's controversial phone record surveillance program.
Citing information from "officials familiar with the discussions," The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that the proposal from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Justice Department was due by March 28 but was delivered earlier than expected.
Following widespread criticism over the NSA's bulk record collection, the Obama administration had asked US intelligence agencies and the Justice Department to come up with alternatives that would take the actual data ownership away from the NSA.
The first option would keep the data in the hands of the phone companies. The NSA would then request access to specific records based on any connection to terrorists.
But the phone companies are against this proposal, the Journal said, because the legal burden of turning over the data would still fall on them. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee also told the Journal that this option doesn't have the necessary support in Congress.
The second option would warehouse the data with a government agency other than the NSA, such as the FBI or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. A third option would see the data turned over to a party other than the government or the phone companies. But privacy groups have complained that this third party could end up as just an extension of the NSA, the Journal said.
All three options also might keep privacy fears alive since the bulk data would still be retained but would merely change hands.
The final option calls on the White House to curtail the NSA's bulk surveillance program altogether and instead use other means to gather information on suspected terrorists.
Each of the four options clearly has its own pitfalls, and none is likely to satisfy everyone. Opponents of the NSA's bulk data collection are calling for its end, while proponents claim that the program is needed to combat terrorism. In such a climate, the onus is now on the White House to decide which option may be the most feasible and the most politically acceptable.
In response to a request for comment on the proposal, a spokesperson for the White House sent CNET the following statement:
In his January 17, 2014 speech on the Administration's signals intelligence review, the President directed the intelligence community and the Attorney General "to develop options for a new approach that can match the capabilities and fill the gaps that the Section 215 program was designed to address without the government holding this metadata itself." He further asked the IC and AG to "report back" to him "with options for alternative approaches before the program comes up for reauthorization on March 28th." Since the speech, the Department of Justice and Intelligence Community have been at work developing options consistent with the President's direction. They have kept us abreast of their progress, and we look forward to reviewing those options. Moreover, as the President noted in his remarks, we will also consult with Congress to seek their views on this issue, and then seek congressional authorization, as needed. Beyond that, I'm not in a position to discuss the details of an ongoing process.