Obama Backs End to Mass Phone Surveillance

President Obama has lent his support to a new bill making its way through Congress which would end the NSA’s mass collection of US citizens’ phone records.

The bipartisan USA Freedom Act is expected to pass through the House of Representatives but faces opposition in the Senate, where Republican and majority leader Mitch McConnell is backing an alternative bill which would renew the mass surveillance program until 2020.

The attorney general and director of national intelligence are said to be issuing a letter of support for the USA Freedom Act, with the Obama administration feeling that it’s the best chance it has of retaining some snooping powers.

The current bulk collection program expires on 1 June, so time is running out.

Although the USA Freedom Act proposes to ban intrusive mass surveillance of phone records, it’s said to allow the government to obtain a more limited volume of records.

Specifically, agencies would have to request a court order for access to specific phone numbers or other “selection terms,” according to the Washington Post.

The new Act received a boost last week when the US Court of Appeals ruled that the program, technically section 215 of the Patriot Act, was illegal because the collection of all US citizens’ phone records – although not the content of calls – could not be deemed “relevant” to a particular investigation against terrorism.

The idea of relevance in section 215 is “unprecedented and unwarranted” the ruling claimed.

“Last week’s judicial decision just underscores the need for Congress to take action now, so that these important national security authorities are not subject to continued uncertainty,” said National Security Council spokesman Edward Price.

Tim Erlin, director of security and risk at Tripwire, argued that the US government has been “fighting a losing battle” ever since NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden first revealed the existence of mass surveillance programs.

“With each new revelation from Snowden and others, the work required to restore trust has grown,” he added. “Taking the step to ban bulk data collection would demonstrate a commitment to restoring that trust, but the proposed legislation has not been passed yet. Obama’s support is important, but not sufficient alone.”

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