NSA to contract out it's criminal activities to private firms???
Emerging political consensus supports end to NSA collection of Americans’s phone records
By Ellen Nakashima, Published: March 25 E-mail the writer
For those not following the ins and outs of National Security Agency surveillance reform, the one big takeaway is this: There is an emerging consensus from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to Capitol Hill that the government’s mass collection of data about Americans’ phone calls must end.
President Obama said Tuesday that the intelligence community has given him a plan to get there, and key factions in Congress have developed various alternatives.
The questions are: Which version or which hybrid of versions will emerge the winner? And what will the result mean for Americans?
The answer to the former: It’s too soon to tell.
The answer to the latter: No matter which version emerges, the days of the government collecting Americans’ phone records in bulk are numbered.
In truth, momentum has been building toward that since June, when the NSA’s program that collects billions of records on Americans’ phone call activity was disclosed in a document leaked by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.
What the NSA has been collecting is “metadata” — numbers dialed, times and lengths of calls — not the content of conversations. The goal was to have numbers that analysts could search when they were looking for clues to terrorism plots. Several major phone companies have been turning over their caches of data to the agency every day since 2006, under court orders.
Although the administration and some judges have said the program is lawful and constitutional, Obama concluded in January that its scale — collecting tens of billions of citizens’ records that are stored for five years at the NSA — was making too many people uncomfortable about the potential for abuse. He ordered his subordinates to find a way to end the government’s collection of so many records.
Obama said he thinks the plan he has is “workable.” Essentially, the phone companies would keep records about who called whom just as they always have. (Some companies keep such information for a year or two, others for 10 years.) A judge would determine that a number the government wants data on is linked to a terrorist organization. Then the phone company would send the government all call activity linked to that number, in real time, as it comes in.
This plan has two key features: It requires judicial approval before a number can be searched, a requisite for privacy advocates.
Second, it does not require the phone companies to hold the data longer than they normally would. That was a prospect the firms opposed.