President Obama, in a statement Thursday, announced his intention to curtail the bulk collection of cell phone data by the government. The White House has posted this fact sheet to detail his proposal.
Under the President’s proposal, a new program would be created with the following key attributes:There are still some outstanding questions, and more necessary reforms. For example, what would the administration consider "an emergency situation" that would allow the NSA to forgo getting a judge's order? That question was asked in a conference call with administration officials Wednesday, but not answered. That'll be left up to the legislators. Additionally, how is the administration defining "national security concerns" beyond counterterrorism? What's the limit for justification for data collection? Officials on the conference call did not explain those limits.
- the government will not collect these telephone records in bulk; rather, the records would remain at the telephone companies for the length of time they currently do today;
- absent an emergency situation, the government would obtain the records only pursuant to individual orders from the FISC approving the use of specific numbers for such queries, if a judge agrees based on national security concerns;
- the records provided to the government in response to queries would only be within two hops of the selection term being used, and the government’s handling of any records it acquires will be governed by minimization procedures approved by the FISC;
- the court-approved numbers could be used to query the data over a limited period of time without returning to the FISC for approval, and the production of records would be ongoing and prospective; and
- the companies would be compelled by court order to provide technical assistance to ensure that the records can be queried and that results are transmitted to the government in a usable format and in a timely manner.
The president's acknowledgement that the bulk collection program is a problem and does have to be reformed is a very good step forward, and these proposals are better than the status quo, but there's still much that needs to be done to rein in the myriad abuses the Snowden leaks have revealed. Comprehensive reform is still needed, and that's what the USA FREEDOM Act, from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rep. Jim Sensennbrenner (R-WI) provides.