President to propose legislation to halt bulk collection of phone data

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The House Intelligence Committee also introduces its own bill tackling NSA surveillance.
The House Intelligence Committee also introduces its own bill tackling NSA surveillance.

After delivering a call for reform regarding the National Security Agency's mass collection of Americans' telephone data, President Obama is days away from proposing new legislation to end the surveillance practice.

On Monday, The New York Times revealed that a legislative proposal from the Obama administration would soon be unveiled. Senior administration officials told the publication that the proposal would effectively end NSA's “systematic collection of data about Americans' calling habits.”

Currently, the Patriot Act Section 215 authorizes the collection of specific call record information, like the date, time and duration – but not the content – of calls.

According to the Times, Obama's legislation would specifically propose that phone companies maintain control of bulk phone records, and that the NSA can obtain “specific records only with permission from a judge, using a new kind of court order,” the article said.

In addition to the White House's coming proposal, a different bill, called the End Bulk Collection Act of 2014 was set to be introduced Tuesday by the House Intelligence Committee.

A Tuesday article in The Guardian revealed that a draft of the bill – eyed by lawmakers and the outlet – included a major caveat prohibiting the NSA from obtaining phone records without using “specific identifiers or selections terms.”

Still, obtaining information for each specific phone number would not require court approval, as championed in the White House legislative proposal.

On Tuesday, Patrick Toomey, a staff attorney at ACLU's National Security Project, told SCMagazine.com that, based on available information on the proposals, President Obama's legislation is expected to be “more protective of American's privacy.”

“My understanding of the intelligence committee's proposal, is it requires a more general or programmatic approval of the metadata collection, but would not require the NSA to go through the court for each specific number it would target,” Toomey said.

He added that the civil liberties group hopes to see further data protections laid out in coming legislation.

“We certainly think that any proposal to rein in the government collection of phone data, should also clearly prohibit the bulk collection of other types of information,” Toomey said.

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