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Obama & Congress Move to End Mass Surveillance by the NSA

Obama & Congress Move to End Mass Surveillance by the NSA
Obama & Congress Move to End Mass Surveillance by the NSA

Rep. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, the panel's top Democrat, unveiled their legislation on Tuesday, dubbed the FISA Transparency and Modernization Act.

The bill, co-sponsored by six Republicans and three Democrats, would require phone companies to hold call metadata for 18 months, as they do now for billing purposes, but the NSA would have no visibility to it. Instead, the agency would need to seek court approval before accessing it, with the burden of demonstrating that there is a "reasonable and articulable suspicion” for doing so.

“We think that we have found a way to end the government’s bulk collection of telephone metadata and still provide a mechanism to protect the United States and track those terrorists who are calling into the United States to commit acts of terror,” said Rogers, during a press conference.

The senators said that they believe that the NSA must be able to access the data when it needs to, but acknowledged that the Edward Snowden leaks have caused a "perception issue,” requiring steps to be taken to reassure the American people that abuses are not taking place.

“Basically what we are doing is we’re listening to the American people,” said Ruppersberger.

The Intelligence Committee bill would also prohibit the bulk collection of other records, such as Internet data, library records or medical data.

Meanwhile, President Obama is prepping his own proposal, which would also remove the NSA’s direct access to phone record data. Instead, according to the New York Times, the NSA would have to first obtain an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and then make the requests. The proposal would need Congressional approval.

Caitlin Hayden, a White House spokeswoman, told the NY Times that Obama "will put forward a sound approach to ensuring the government no longer collects or holds this data, but still ensures that the government has access to the information it needs to meet the national security needs his team has identified."

The NSA’s authority to collect bulk data actually expires on Friday, so the administration plans to ask the FISA court to continue the program as-is until Congress acts.

Advocacy groups were cautiously optimistic. “Compared to the grand scope of the surveillance state that we have seen laid bare before us this past year, this is a sensible proposal for reform but only a first step,” said ThoughtWorks’ director of social and economic justice, Matt Simons, in a statement to Infosecurity. “We welcome the implicit recognition by the president that the security agencies need to be reined in.”

However, he cautioned, “Even with this reform, bulk warrantless surveillance of Americans and innocent citizens around the world will continue under multiple legislative and executive authorities that have been interpreted in secret. We urge congress and the president to move urgently on continued reforms to restore fundamental human rights in the digital age.”

 

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