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This week, President Barack Obama has outlined his proposal to put a stop to the bulk collection of phone metadata. According to a post on the Verge, the president’s proposal will ultimately end the NSA’s routine collection of metadata, and instead the data will be held by the phone companies themselves. To acquire any specific records, the government will have to obtain permission from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

The difference here, of course, is that now the data won’t simply be collected by the government en masse, putting a stop to one of the more controversial revelations from the many leaks provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Furthermore, phone companies won’t need to hold onto their customer data for longer than 18 months, which is already a federally imposed time frame. By contrast, the NSA’s policy has been to hold the metadata it’s been collecting for five years.

Meanwhile, a similar piece of legislation is also being discussed in congress. Interestingly, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has endorsed President Obama’s proposal, while explaining that the legislation proposed by the House Intelligence Committee would actually take things in the wrong direction. The Verge post points out that the committee’s bill would actually broaden the government’s power to request information “about anyone associated with a foreign power—not just people associated with a terrorist or national security investigation.” Moreover, the legislation would “lift the requirement to get judicial review of every request beforehand.”

A post on the ACLU’s website quotes Michelle Richardson, ACLU legislative counsel, who explains the good and the bad between the two proposals:

“The president’s reported plan to end the bulk collection of phone records is a crucial first step towards reining in the NSA’s overreaching surveillance. The change would replace the dragnet surveillance of millions of innocent people with targeted methods that are both effective and respect Americans’ constitutional rights. It is critical that the administration also end other bulk collection programs.

The House Intelligence Committee, however, is on the wrong track once again. Its new bill uses reform momentum as a pretext for expanding government power. The bill’s modest improvements to the phone records program are not worth demolishing the important judicial role in overseeing these programs. The best bill we’ve seen so far to fix the NSA is the bipartisan USA Freedom Act.”

Either way, the good news is that the debate has begun, and reforms will happen. Hopefully those in power will take the necessary steps to make citizens’ data private once again.

[Sources: The Verge, ACLU]


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