President Barack Obama on Thursday unveiled major changes to the “spying” program that previously saw the National Security Agency collect and store millions of phone call logs that could then be examined without the knowledge of the parties placing and receiving the calls. The biggest change, as it turns out, is that the NSA will no longer collect and store this data at all. Instead, phone companies will be tasked with storing the records and the NSA will need authorization from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in order to access individual records.
The move was made in response to the outcry resulting from revelations brought about by leaked NSA documents made public by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Phone companies such as Verizon and AT&T will need to ensure that there is a system in place that provides fast and easy access to the call records when authorized requests are made by the NSA. The data in the logs in question includes phone numbers, call times and call durations.
“Throughout American history, intelligence has helped secure our country and our freedoms,” the President said back in January during a speech covering the NSA. “In the Civil War, Union balloon reconnaissance tracked the size of Confederate armies by counting the number of camp fires. In World War II, code-breaking gave us insight into Japanese war plans, and when Patton marched across Europe, intercepted communications helped save the lives of his troops. After the war, the rise of the Iron Curtain and nuclear weapons only increased the need for sustained intelligence-gathering. And so, in the early days of the Cold War, President Truman created the National Security Agency to give us insight into the Soviet bloc, and provide our leaders with information they needed to confront aggression and avert catastrophe.”
He continued, “Throughout this evolution, we benefited from both our Constitution and traditions of limited government. U.S. intelligence agencies were anchored in our system of checks and balances – with oversight from elected leaders, and protections for ordinary citizens. Meanwhile, totalitarian states like East Germany offered a cautionary tale of what could happen when vast, unchecked surveillance turned citizens into informers, and persecuted people for what they said in the privacy of their own homes.”
Obama says that his goal is now to return to a place were agencies like the NSA are free to protect American citizens by doing their job effectively, but within the guidelines created by the White House with “limited government” in mind.
More details on the changes to the NSA’s phone record collection program, which will go into effect in 90 days, can be found on The Verge.