Obama Apparently Ready To Kill Bulk Phone Record Collection… As New House Bill Lowers Standards For Data Collection
from the how's-that-going-to-work dept
With two of his own review panels saying that the bulk collection of phone records under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act had failed to produce anything of value, and one of them clearly stating that it was also illegal and unconstitutional, the NY Times is reporting that President Obama is finally ready to call for the true end of the NSA’s bulk collection of phone records. Surprisingly, according to that report, President Obama is willing to do this without adding data retention requirements for the telcos to hold onto that data themselves. If true, that really is a pretty big deal — though it only covers the issue of the bulk phone records collection. That leaves other forms of bulk collection under Section 215 in place. So, in effect, it seems like an agreement to kill off the one high profile problematic program that hasn’t been remotely useful, rather than a full policy shift. It’s a start, however.
Unfortunately, at the same time that’s happening, it appears that the House Intelligence Committee, run by Rep. Mike Rogers is pushing a new bill that would take a step towards limiting some aspects of the NSA’s data collection powers, but also lowering the standard by which the government could collect specific information:
The bill, titled the End Bulk Collection Act of 2014 and currently circulating on Capitol Hill, would prevent the government from acquiring “records of any electronic communication without the use of specific identifiers or selection terms,” some 10 months after the Guardian first exposed the bulk collection based on leaks by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.
But the bill would allow the government to collect electronic communications records based on “reasonable articulable suspicion”, rather than probable cause or relevance to a terrorism investigation, from someone deemed to be an agent of a foreign power, associated with an agent of a foreign power, or “in contact with, or known to, a suspected agent of a foreign power.”
While a separate report says that this House bill would actually ban the mass collection of other types of data (including internet activity) as well as phone records (i.e., going further than the Obama proposal), it would leave out the requirement that a court approve specific requests for information before it’s submitted to a company.
But unlike other pending legislation, it does not call for judicial approval of a specific phone number before a request for data is submitted to a company.
The Rogers-Ruppersberger legislation would have the court make that determination “promptly” after the FBI submits a number to a phone company. If the court did not approve the number as being linked to an agent of a foreign power, including terrorist groups, the data collected would be expunged.
The details of these proposals are going to matter a lot. The full House bill is expected to be introduced in a few hours, and it will take some time to go through the details to see if there are any dangerous easter eggs hidden in there. Still, for all the arguments from Rep. Rogers and the Obama administration about how “necessary” these programs have been and how horrible it’s been that Ed Snowden revealed the details to the press, these moves show just how much of an impact the Snowden leaks have had on the public debate concerning surveillance. It will take some time to sort through the details of these proposals, but it’s safe to say without Snowden’s actions, none of this would be happening.