Obama to propose NSA stop keeping data on Americans' calls

By: CBS
By: CBS
President Obama has decided he wants the National Security Agency out of the phone records storage business, CBS News has confirmed.

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Washington, DC (CBS) - President Obama has decided he wants the National Security Agency out of the phone records storage business, CBS News has confirmed.
A senior official traveling with the president in the Netherlands says Mr. Obama has chosen another option, to be announced later this week. His choices include allowing phone companies to store the call records or establishing another entity.

He is expected to recommend that phone companies maintain the records for 18 months, as they currently do. The government would be able to see some records with court approval.

Another official says, "The President considered those options and, in the coming days, after concluding ongoing conversations with Congress, including the Intelligence and Judiciary committees, will put forward a sound approach. The administration also wants to consult with the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance) court on the plan."

The government's role in phone records storage wouldn't end immediately. The official says the president has ordered a renewal of the current program for at least three more months.

The New York Times first reported the details of the proposal Monday night, and The Associated Press matched numerous elements of the Times report.

The proposal would end the government's practice of sweeping up the phone records of millions of Americans and holding onto those records for five years so the numbers can be searched for national security purposes.

The president's plan, however, relies on Congress to pass legislation - something that has so far seemed unlikely.

Details of the government's secret phone records collection program were disclosed last year by former NSA systems analyst Edward Snowden. Privacy advocates were outraged to learn that the government was holding onto phone records of innocent Americans for up to five years. Mr. Obama promised to make changes to the program in an effort to win back public support.

In January, he tasked his administration with coming up with an alternative to the current counterterrorism program and suggested that the phone companies option was the most likely. However, he also said that option posed problems.

"This will not be simple," Mr. Obama said. An independent review panel suggested that the practice of the government collecting the phone records be replaced by a third party or the phone companies holding the records, and the government would access them as needed.

"Both of these options pose difficult problems," Mr. Obama said in January. "Relying solely on the records of multiple providers, for example, could require companies to alter their procedures in ways that raise new privacy concerns.

And the phone companies have been against this option, as well.

In several meetings with White House staff since December, phone company executives came out strongly opposed to proposals that would shift the custody of the records from the NSA to the telecoms. The executives said they would only accept such changes to the NSA program if they were legally required and if that requirement was spelled out in legislation.

The companies are concerned about the costs of retaining the records and potential liability, such as being sued by individuals whose phone data was provided to intelligence or law enforcement agencies, these people said. The discussions with the White House ceased earlier this year. Industry officials said they had not been in contact with the administration as new options were being considered. The executives have continued to discuss the issue with lawmakers, however.

But it's unlikely that Congress would pass legislation in the next three months, as the NSA surveillance has proved to be a divisive issue, even within political parties.

The chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, has advocated for the program to continue to operate as it does. The California Democrat said she would be open to other options if they met national security and privacy needs.

It is unclear whether the White House proposal will meet those needs.

Leaders of the House intelligence committee are expected to introduce legislation Tuesday that would call for an option similar to Mr. Obama's.

© 2014 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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