Obama unveils plan to change NSA data collection

(USA TODAY) -- The Obama administration laid out a new set of surveillance rules Thursday that would transfer the storage of millions of telephone records from the government to private phone companies.

The plan, developed in response to protests about the reach of National Security Agency surveillance tactics, requires a sign-off from Congress.

"Having carefully considered the available options, I have decided that the best path forward is that the government should not collect or hold this data in bulk," Obama said in a statement. "Instead, the data should remain at the telephone companies for the length of time it currently does today."

Obama pledged to work with Congress on developing a workable plan that would accommodate counter-terrorism investigations while protecting constitutional liberties.

"I am confident that this approach can provide our intelligence and law enforcement professionals the information they need to keep us safe while addressing the legitimate privacy concerns that have been raised," Obama said.

Government officials could still access the phone data with court approval, according to the plan, though there could exceptions in cases of national security emergencies.

The House Intelligence Committee issued a plan this week that would also transfer storage authority to phone companies but allow the government to access without prior court approval. A judge would review the government's request after agents obtained the data, a provision that has drawn objections from civil libertarians.

The idea of ending government storage of metadata appears to have bipartisan support.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the Intelligence Committee's bill starts "a bipartisan conversation" about surveillance programs, and he added that "I expect the part of this effort will include the end of the government holding on to bulk data."

NSA surveillance techniques became public last year with leaks from former contractor Edward Snowden.

Obama called for new NSA rules in a January speech, and he gave aides until March 28 — Friday — to develop legislation to end the NSA's ability to sweep up and store all kinds of telephone records.

Snowden, now living in Russia while facing charges, praised Obama's efforts earlier this week.

"This is a turning point, and it marks the beginning of a new effort to reclaim our rights from the NSA and restore the public's seat at the table of government," Snowden said in a statement released by the ACLU, which is helping with his legal representation.


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