Both the Obama administration and the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday revealed dueling reform proposals both supposedly intended to reign in the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance through limiting the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records. However, following the much-heralded announcements, reform advocates slammed the proposals saying “the devil is in the details.”
According to information provided to the New York Times by unnamed “senior White House officials,” the Obama administration is proposing to end the NSA’s mass collection of phone records by instead requesting them from phone companies on an individual, court-approved basis. The companies would not be required to retain records longer than they already do.
Though little information has yet to be released, many critics of the NSA’s vast dragnet operations say the proposal clearly does not go far enough.
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“The administration doesn’t seem to be contemplating new limits on the agency’s authority to retain, analyze or disseminate the records it collects,” writes Jameel Jaffer, director of the National Security Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. “And it isn’t proposing to end bulk collection of all records – just the bulk collection of phone records.”
“Given all the various ways that the NSA has overreached, piecemeal change is not enough,” writes Cindy Cohn and Mark M. Jaycox of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Noting that an existing bill—the “USA Freedom Act” by Judiciary Committee chairs Sen. Patrick Leahy and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner—does much of what Obama proposed and more, Cohn and Jaycox say, instead of paltry legislation, “we urge the Administration to simply decide that it will stop misusing section 215 of the Patriot Act and section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act and Executive Order 12333 and whatever else it is secretly relying on to stop mass spying.”
Also today, the leaders of the House Intelligence Committee, Reps Mike Rogers (D-Mich.) and Dutch Ruppersberger (R-Md.), announced a bill titled the “End Bulk Collection Act.”
Given an advance copy of the House proposal, the Guardian’s Trevor Timm notes that the law effectively expands NSA’s surveillance power. “The devil is in the details,” he writes, adding that “when it comes to the National Security Agency’s unique ability to twist and distort the English language, the devil tends to wrap his horns around every word.”
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