The Obama administration on Thursday announced details of its plan to end the government's vast bulk collection of data about phone calls made in the United States, including new procedures to get judicial approval before asking companies for such records.
Under the plan, phone companies would have to provide data from their records quickly and in a usable format when requested by the government, a senior administration official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
It would also allow the government to seek the data without a court order in a national security emergency.
"I am confident that this approach can provide our intelligence and law enforcement professionals the information they need to keep us safe while addressing the legitimate privacy concerns that have been raised," President Barack Obama said in a statement about the plan, which needs approval by Congress.
The U.S. government began collecting so-called metadata shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, under part of the Patriot Act known as Section 215.
The program's defenders say it helps the government find connections between people plotting attacks overseas and co-conspirators inside the United States, while critics view it as an infringement of privacy rights.
Obama has been under pressure to rein in surveillance since former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden last year disclosed classified details about the breadth of the government's intelligence gathering, sparking an international uproar.
NEXT STEP: CONGRESS
Obama announced his initial response to the debate in January, including a ban on eavesdropping on the leaders of allied nations.
On Thursday, the administration provided additional details about its plans for telephone records known as metadata. Such records document which telephone number called which other number, when the calls were made and how long they lasted. Metadata does not include the content of the calls.
Under the proposal, once the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approves gathering records associated with a phone number, phone companies could be required to turn over data associated with that number on an "ongoing and prospective" basis, a senior administration official said on a conference call.
Companies would be compelled to provide technical assistance to the government to query the records, and may be compensated in a way that is consistent with current procedures, the official said.
The administration will ask the court to allow it to operate its existing program for at least another 90 days, as Congress weighs legislation.
"We would hope that the Congress would take something up very expeditiously," the official said.
At least two proposals for ending bulk collection of phone data have already been unveiled by lawmakers.
In October, Patrick Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Jim Sensenbrenner, a House Republican, introduced a bill that would require the government to show a request for data was relevant to an ongoing investigation.
Their bill, called the USA Freedom Act, has been endorsed by privacy advocates including the American Civil Liberties Union.
Earlier this week, Republican Mike Rogers and Democrat Dutch Ruppersberger, the top lawmakers on the House of Representatives' intelligence panel, released a plan that would not require the government to first get court approval of a request for data.
Instead, the court could order the data expunged if it was later found not to be linked to suspicious activity.
House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, has said he supports the bill.
But Obama has been clear that "one of the main attributes" he wanted to see in the overhaul was requiring court approval before data requests are made, the senior administration official said, noting the government has been following that practise since January.
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