President Obama to End NSA's Handling of Bulk Telephone Metadata Today
January 17, 2014 10:09 AM
The changes to the NSA's surveillance programs will be announced at 11 a.m. (1600 GMT)
The U.S. National Security Agency's (NSA) surveillance programs are expected to see some
big changes today
, including the end of the NSA's handling of bulk telephone metadata.
According to a new report from
, U.S. President Barack Obama will reveal the changes to the NSA's programs today at 11 a.m. (1600 GMT) at the Justice Department.
Some of the changes expected are the elimination of the government's handling of bulk telephone metadata, and making a judicial finding required before looking to the database as a way of scaling back spying on American devices.
Obama said the bulk data program could be necessary for countering terrorist attacks, but feels that it's important to find a comfortable balance between the use of this program and the privacy of American citizens.
A presidential review panel suggested that bulk data be held by a third party (like telephone companies), but reports say Obama will not provide any specifics on who should hold the data today.
While privacy advocates, Senate, and House Judiciary committees have all spoken out against the bulk metadata collection, the Intelligence committees of both the Senate and House have said they believed the telephone metadata program should stay the way it is.
Back in December 2013, the presidential review panel made 46 recommendations regarding greater restraint on the NSA's surveillance programs, which will have to be accepted by President Barack Obama and U.S. Congress before being put into practice. The recommendations were submitted that same month.
One of the
involves the elimination of bulk collection of phone call records (known as "metadata"). The NSA said it collected metadata in bulk and filtered through it afterward in an attempt to make connections when searching for terrorist threats.
However, the panel said that this method of data collection hasn't proved to be more effective or beneficial than more targeted forms. It further stated that the program has made "modest" contributions at best, and that there's no proof the outcome would have been any different without the metadata bulk collection.
The NSA has defended the bulk collection of metadata, saying it's necessary to keep the country safe. NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander even said it's the only way the NSA can "connect the dots."
Another big recommendation from the panel was to conduct five tests before Washington decides to spy on foreign leaders: U.S. leaders should determine whether such surveillance is merited by major threats to national security; whether the other nation involved has leaders we should accord a high degree of respect and deference; whether there is reason to believe the foreign leader has been deceitful; whether there are other ways to obtain the information, and weigh the negative consequences if the surveillance were to become public knowledge.
Yet another major recommendation is the limitation of on National Security Letters, which allow certain government agencies demand business records from both individuals and companies without any independent or judicial review. The panel said these letters should only be issued after a judicial review, and gag orders should also be limited.
The NSA has been under the microscope ever since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked details about the NSA's secret spy programs to the media early last year. In August 2013, reports said that the NSA admitted to
touching 1.6 percent of total globe Web traffic
. Its technique was to filter data after harvesting it, which led to over-collection on a major scale. It was later revealed that Snowden conned between 20 to 25 NSA employees to
give him their login credentials and passwords
while working at the NSA regional operations center for a month in Hawaii last spring. Snowden reportedly told the NSA employees that he needed their passwords in order to do his job, and after downloading secret NSA documents, he leaked the information to the media.
Snowden told the media last month that his
mission is complete
after spending the last year leaking secret NSA documents.
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