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Obama administration handed four proposals for NSA phone data reform

updated 09:33 am EST, Wed February 26, 2014

No plan currently agreed upon, shutdown still possible

As directed by the Obama administration, a cadre of federal lawyers have developed a quartet of plans to restructure the National Security Agency (NSA) phone monitoring program. The proposals run the range from officially running operations through the telephone companies with full approval and support, all the way to completely shutting the program down, according to people familiar with the matter.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that one of the methods presented is forcing the telephone companies to preserve the data, with the NSA serving requests for the data when it needs searches of cell records. The companies would then voluntarily provide the data to the NSA.

This way, the NSA would only get the data that is related to the search, instead of hundreds of millions of other, unrelated phone number (and other data) captures. Both the telecommunication companies and the chairman of the House intelligence committee oppose this plan.

A second reported option is having another agency hold the data other than the NSA, such as the FBI -- but this method would still not guarantee any privacy protection. A third option is handing the program over wholesale to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which would assume an expanded role. Judges on the court don't favor having the court assume any more responsibility for the program.

The fourth proposal, a full shutdown in favor of other more traditional (and legal) intelligence-gathering methods, has already been floated by the Obama administration. Shutdown would be accompanied by an increase in investigative efforts (with the resultant increase in funding). In the president's January speech addressing the situation, he suggested that this option could be viable, but that "more work needs to be done to determine exactly how this system might work."

The major drive that forced the review and subsequent proposals was a change to the Presidential Policy Directive authorizing the program. The biggest controversy revolves around the bulk collection of data currently performed by the NSA and other agencies under the Patriot Act, which monitors both innocent and targeted parties in apparent violation of the Constitution.

Recently, criminal defendants have filed requests for the data, which would allegedly prove innocence in prosecution. To date, none of these requests have been fulfilled, with the NSA hiding behind a "national security" defense. Additionally, Albanian immigrant Agron Hasbajrami has been found guilty of funding overseas terrorism. He was informed after pleading guilty to the charge that NSA evidence would have been used against him in trial.

American Civil Liberties Union attorney Patrick Toomey claims that the new filing proves that "warrantless surveillance has played a role in more criminal cases than the government has ever before admitted, and the government has been improperly withholding that fact from defendants for years."

by MacNN Staff



  1. Gazoobee

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 02-27-09

    This whole thing is such bullshit and Obama shouldn't get any kudos for doing this. All that's happening is that instead of the NSA illegally and unconstitutionally violating everyone's rights, the telecoms will do this for them instead. Because the material is time shifted and not accessed "until necessary" the spying is somehow supposed to be "okay" even though it's still illegal and still unconstitutional.

  1. Flying Meat

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 01-25-07

    "Shut it down! Shut it down forever!"
    Dark City

  1. nowwhatareyoulookingat

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 07-13-09

    Shutdown of the program has NOT been floated. The administration has been steadfast in the absolute need for this to save us from terrorists.

    And of course this is an excellent deflection from the rest of the mass-data-gathering they are doing [this is only about phone meta-data, not the rest of it].

  1. Charles Martin

    MacNN Editor

    Joined: 08-04-01

    While I'm not entirely opposed to monitoring of suspicious persons, whatever happened to "innocent until proven guilty?" Whatever happened to the Constitution's protection against unreasonable search?

    I'm inclined to cut the President some slack because a) this started before he arrived and b) you can't just magically shut these things down even if you wanted to (and clearly this administration doesn't want to), but I think (hope) that in the future, when a Constitutional balance is restored to the US, that this side of his administration will not be looked kindly upon by future historians.

  1. nowwhatareyoulookingat

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 07-13-09

    chas_m, actually the President CAN magically shut the program down. He would have to write a letter saying "stop doing this or you are fired and I will find someone else who will", sign it, then have it delivered to the head of the NSA. He is ENTIRELY responsible for what the NSA does while he is the President.

    He gets no slack anymore because he campaigned on stopping the excesses of FISA/the NSA during his first Presidential campaign. And it's not just his administration, the previous one certainly got the ball rolling on this stuff [and worse, like bulk recording of actual conversations, not just "metadata"].

    But I see no way for this 'Constitutional Balance' to be restored, because only a relatively small group of individuals are against it, while most of the people in the 3 branches of government are for it.

  1. Inteldrour

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 02-26-14

    I hope Pres.Obama is careful with this decision…

    This political garbage, those folks who already disrupted this nation and continuously rapping it of it’s resources want back control and will do anything to get it like 9/11 but the NSA when active can unravel quite a number of inside terrorists activities so therefore will do anything possible to stop the NSA from discovering these plots.

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