Obama proposes to end NSA phone record snooping

Obama proposes to end NSA phone record snooping

Summary: The Obama administration proposes to end the NSA's bulk phone record collection. Here's why the revamp gets sticky.


President Obama is proposing to nix the National Security Agency's practice to collect phone records in bulk.

According to the New York Times, the Obama administration will propose legislation that would end the NSA's bulk phone record program. If Congress approved the legislation, the NSA would need a court order to collect specific records on Americans.

Special Feature

IT Security in the Snowden Era

IT Security in the Snowden Era

The Edward Snowden revelations have rocked governments, global businesses, and the technology world. When we look back a decade from now, we expect this to be the biggest story of 2013. Here is our perspective on the still-unfolding implications along with IT security and risk management best practices.

The NSA may not be listening to your private phone calls, but it has been watching your private parts

The news comes amid what could be construed as NSA fatigue. The debate over the NSA's practices, which were exposed by leaks by former contractor Edward Snowden, have fallen into two camps. The first camp is appalled that the NSA can snoop into everything from instant messages to social networking and calls. The other camp isn't all that surprised the government has such a large surveillance program. And then there's a middle ground that stays largely silent on the matter.

Obama promised NSA reform in January.

The gist of the Times article boils down like this:

  • A court order would require phone companies to provide records quickly in a compatible data format;
  • Phone companies would have to provide data on any new calls after the order;
  • The government could trace call records two calls removed from the first one tracked;
  • The NSA holds phone data for five years, but that could go down to 18 months.

While the Obama move is notable, a lot has to fall in place for the NSA revamp to happen. Congress has to approve. Companies need their say. And while most argue that the NSA shouldn't put millions of U.S. citizens under ongoing surveillance there's a need to monitor potential terrorists. Toss in compliance costs for companies that have to cooperate with the NSA and you have a complicated brew.

Topics: Security, Government, Networking

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • CONGRESS makes LEGISLATION, NOT the president

    The president is not a king. CONGRESS makes / passes legislation to be signed by the president. CONGRESS can force legislation into law without a presidential signature.

    OBAMA is not a KING ... please don't play up his ability.
    • The article states several times that Congress would have to approve

      This is all just pandering. The polling data suggests that Obama is losing millennials over the NSA spying. Good luck getting Congress to agree with him. I wonder if he would sign the bill if Rand Paul suggested it? Lousy political parties.
      • Actually...

        ...given all the controversy, Congress is likely to approve, as the self-preservation instinct of most politicians is quite strong.

        Of course, it won't be unanimous; nor will it pass on a party line vote.
        John L. Ries
    • ...not the President, but for sure the NSA

      The NSA does what has to be done with the order of NOBODY.
      Who checks the NSA? - Nobody!
      The espionage & counter-espionage is based on lies - and it will remain so.
      • Nobody checks the NSA?

        Not even the Secretary of Defense, who is responsible for supervising it? Not even the President who can hire and fire the director at will; or even dissolve the agency outright? Not even the Congressional Intelligence committees who have the authority to subpeona agency employees whenever they see fit? Nobody? Really?

        Even in the old days when the US Government refused to acknowledge the NSA's existence, it was still responsible to the President and the Secretary of Defense. I'm guessing that how well they supervised it was highly variable.

        In the end, the politicians are responsible for what the generals and bureaucrats do, whether they'll admit it or not.
        John L. Ries
        • Are you forgetting your US history, John?

          Knowledge is power and it sometimes leads to political and legal invulnerability. I'm referring to J Egar Hoover and his dossiers on all of Washington's power elite. Even Presidents feared to cross Hoover (as I'm sure you know).

          The NSA deals in information. (And by extension, every intelligence agency). Just go ask Nancy Perlosi about intelligence snooping on US elected Represenatives. Do you think the agents or agency leaders who snooped into her files will ever face jail time?

          As far as I'm concerned, the NSA is above our laws - until proven otherwise.
          • The NSA doesn't have a Hoover

            The FBI doesn't even have a Hoover any more. US Presidents were afraid to fire Hoover at least as much for his political connections and public support as for his ability to blackmail politicians. If Hoover had been fired, there would have been a public uproar and the effectiveness of the President who did it would have been significantly reduced.

            I'm guessing that Gen. Alexander was pressed into an early retirement because of the Snowden Affair. What do you think the chances are that he will use the knowledge he gained as director of the NSA to punish less than supportive politicians and journalists?
            John L. Ries
          • The dismissal of Douglas MacArthur...

            ...cost then-President Truman a lot politically, and generated huge controversy. Given that Hoover was even more popular than MacArthur, multiply the effect accordingly.

            That said, Truman deserves enormous respect for relieving MacArthur anyway; as insubordinate generals can never be safely tolerated by any civilian commander in chief.
            John L. Ries
  • CONGRESS makes LEGISLATION, NOT the president

    The president is not a king. CONGRESS makes / passes legislation to be signed by the president. CONGRESS can force legislation into law without a presidential signature.

    OBAMA is not a KING ... please don't play up his ability.
    • Congress can legislate over presidential objections...

      ...but veto overrides are rare and the present political climate makes it hard for Congress to get 2/3 of the membership to support any controversial proposal (and non-controversial ones don't get vetoed).
      John L. Ries
    • Executive orders

      Yet Mr. Obama as well as every other president - still relies on executive orders.

      Doesn't that frustrate the whole concept of Government?
      • Not necessarily

        The authority of the President to give legally binding orders to his department and agency heads is a no-brainer; he has to have it, and it's implicit in the US Constitution's grant of executive authority to him. But, in my humble opinion, an executive order that conflicts with either the Constitution or applicable statute is null and void.

        So the real question is how many of these executive orders are actually legal.
        John L. Ries
        • I should say...

          "null and void to the extent of the conflict".
          John L. Ries
    • Think about what you wrote.... NSA is part of....

      the EXECUTIVE branch, all of which answers to POTUS. The president is not king, BUT does have extensive powers - some of which may come to question from time to time when some level of abuse may become suspected.
      But, now on to a greater question - *IF* NSA is part of the executive branch, WHY is legislation needed???? An executive order is sufficient to define any agency's powers and responsibilities - or at least should be.
      Suggest one take this "publicity stunt" as just that - a ploy to try and "win friends"... If he is indeed a constitutional scholar, he should know full well all the powers and limitations of each governmental branch - so it's just a play to try and win sympathy - or perhaps "one-up" the legislative side.... I don't see any amount of improved trust being generated by this publicity.
      • That's actually a good point

        I don't think there's any evidence that PRISM was put in place as a result of a Congressional mandate. He could abolish it unilaterally.

        But he doesn't have the authority to order ISPs to retain data. That part requires an act of Congress.
        John L. Ries
  • Although a good suggestion...

    Obama is only doing this because of the slew of court actions going on! As Rand Paul stated, hopefully just ONE of them lands on the Supreme Court... the court MUST abide by the constitution and the amendments.. there is no choice. This is what Obama doesn't want! He wants to put a bandaid on this and secretly continue their illegal processes and actions! Don't let this fool you! This whole ordeal NEEDS to get to the supreme court once and for all!
    • Mindread much?

      Why should we take your word as to Mr. Obama's motives? Is there evidence fit to publish in publications more reputable than The Spotlight?
      John L. Ries
  • Obama's Too Late on NSA Restrictions

    It really comes as no surprise that Barack Obama is now going to try to get some NSA restricting legislation done. He is in deep fear that if he doesn't, he's going to lose the Senate and the House again in the 2014 Mid-Term Elections. His real problem is credibility. He can't be trusted. He is a man of Chaos and Deception. Uses LIES and DECEPTION to hide his real agendas.

    I believe Americans have caught on to his tricks and ploys. It's too late for him to try to pull the rabbit out of the hat. The rabbit left along time ago. We might as well resign ourselves to the knowledge that in his 5th year as POTUS, he has become a LAME DUCK.
  • good start

    The proposed legislation is a good start, as long as they also include a clause that brings Snowden home to a hero's welcome. Without him, we'd probably still be in the dark.
    • I don't think...

      ...Congress has the authority to pardon Edward Snowden or anyone else for any offenses he may have committed, nor do I think it has the authority to bar prosecution of a particular individual (though it can, of course, repeal or modify the law generally). Only the President can issue pardons for federal offenses and that's been true since 1789.
      John L. Ries