President Barack Obama on Thursday officially announced the White House plan to dismantle the National Security Agency’s database of bulk Internet and telephone records.
The plan, leaked earlier this week by senior White House officials, would take the data collected in bulk out of the hands of the NSA and leave it with telecommunications and Internet service providers, none of whom would be required to store the data any longer than business needs mandate. Companies will also have to provide some level of technical assistance to aid investigators in searching customer data.
To access the data, the government will have to file requests for individual accounts with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and meet a new standard of national security concerns in order to surveil potential suspects.
Agencies like the NSA and FBI will be able to pursue leads within up to two degrees of separation from a suspect, or two separate individuals that have contacted one another, one of which in addition to the target.
Americans’ accounts will be off limits to the government, but their data may be incidentally swept up as part of a separate investigation, according to the proposal. After attaining permission, the government will have a limited window of time to search a user’s data, but will also have access to new records created after getting a warrant.
The proposal leaves open the possibility of bypassing the court in emergency cases.
Obama indicated he was working with Congress to pass the new legislative proposal as soon as possible — until then, the current program will continue until the end of its 90-day expiration cycle.
The White House’s new legislation is the latest in a handful of bills drafted in response to the leaks of classified NSA bulk surveillance programs by former agency contractor Edward Snowden last year, almost all of which have been widely regarded as invasive and extralegal.
The House of Representatives Intelligence Committee released its own bill this week, and PATRIOT Act co-sponsor and author Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner — who helped write the legal justification cited by the programs — has co-written another bill dubbed the USA FREEDOM Act, which overhauls government surveillance and has wide bipartisan, bicameral support.