President Obama is expected to call for reforms to the NSA’s phone surveillance programs in a speech later today, according to reports.
The NSA’s collection of phone metadata has been highly controversial since it first gained public attention in 2013. The data includes records from all telecom providers of what calls are made, to what numbers, and now long they last. Although it does not record the content of every phone call, intelligence agencies can put together robust profiles of individuals, communities, and networks of association from the metadata alone.
Reports from Reuters, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal indicate that the planned NSA reform will restrict the collection of this phone-related data and will change where and how that information is stored, and by whom it can be accessed.
President Obama will announce in his speech that the bulk metadata collected by the NSA should not be held by the government, but instead should reside in a third-party database. A judicial order will be required before the NSA can query that database for information.
The structure and location of this third-party database are yet to be determined; the President will ask Congress, intelligence agencies, and Attorney General Eric Holder to come up with a proposal by March 28.
In December, a US District Court judge held that the NSA’s phone surveillance program did not violate existing laws, but that whether and how the program should exist was up to the legislative and executive branches to resolve.
Over the past months, the NSA has turned out to be pretty much everywhere. Not only is the agency listening in to phones, but it’s also got eyes and ears in electronics, in video games, and in data centers. The President is not expected to address every element of the NSA’s wide-ranging surveillance in his speech, but will touch on a plan to tighten privacy safeguards for foreign heads of state and propose a new public advocate at the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in addition to the phone surveillance overhaul.