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Obama to Propose New Limits on Bulk Phone Data Collection: Report

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US President Barack Obama is readying a legislative proposal that would put new limits on the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone data, according to a report from the New York Times.

According to the NYT report which cites unnamed senior sources, the administration’s plan is to end the systematic collection of data surrounding the calling habits of Americans. Bulk records would remain in the hands of phone companies, and the NSA would need to get permission from a judge, which would only give them access to specific records.

The administration also wants to set up a new kind of court order that could be more adversarial and open than the current Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. This transition away from FISA will happen after at least one more 90-day cycle.

According to the report, however, the new court orders would require phone companies to make records available faster and in a more usable format, and then make data about any new calls placed or received after the order is received available on a continuing basis.

Reform to bulk phone data collection is one of the steps that the US government is taking in order to restore trust in communications services after Edward Snowden helped reveal to the public the large extent to which communications are monitored.

In his presidential policy directive (PPD-28) in January, Obama added certain provisions requiring the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to declassify more of its decisions and allow National Security Letter recipients to divulge more information about them, such as their number and nature. And on January 27, the Department of Justice provided new guidance, authorizing Verizon, AT&T and other telecoms to disclose certain information, in a specified manner, related to the NSL and FISA orders they have received.

It will remain to be seen whether these actions to limit phone data collection will be a means to appease the public while it still carries on with its internet data collection schemes, even as service providers such as Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft band together to call for limits on government surveillance for both foreign and domestic users.

The Obama administration set out various guidelines for restoring trust in communications in a January address, having taken input from a special review group. Putting these principles into action and getting approval is the next challenge.

About the Author

David Hamilton is a Toronto-based technology journalist who has written for the National Post and other news outlets. He has covered the hosting industry internationally for the Web Host Industry Review with particular attention to innovative hosting solutions and the issues facing the industry. David is a graduate of Queen’s University and the Humber College School of Media Studies.

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  1. The previous bulk phone data collection is terrible. Lots of our phone info are open to the gov. I hope this new reform will make a difference. :)

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