US President Barack Obama plans to ask Congress to end the bulk collection and storage of phone records by the National Security Agency (NSA) but allow the government to access the “metadata” when needed, a senior administration official has said.
If Congress approves, the government would stop collecting the information, known as metadata, which lists millions of phone calls made in the US.
The practice triggered a national debate over privacy rights when the extent of the surveillance programme was exposed last year by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who is currently in Russia under temporary asylum.
Instead, the government would have to get permission from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to review data about the time and duration of telephone calls that it believes may be connected to terrorism attacks, the Reuters news agency reported, citing the New York Times, which first reported the plan.
The proposal would end the practice of holding onto records for five years so the numbers can be searched for national security purposes.
Instead, the White House is expected to propose that the phone records be kept for 18 months, as the phone companies are already required to do by federal regulation, and that it be able to preserve its ability to see certain records in specific circumstances approved by a judge, the AP news agency reported.
Obama, who on Monday met with world leaders in The Hague, has been grappling with a backlash to US government surveillance programmes since classified details about the extent of data-gathering were first leaked by Snowden.
The president has defended use of the data to protect Americans from attacks.
His plan seeks to hold on to “as many capabilities of the program as possible” while ending the government’s role in controlling the database, the official said.
“The president considered those options and in the coming days, after concluding ongoing consultations with Congress, including the Intelligence and Judiciary committees, will put forward a sound approach to ensuring the government no longer collects or holds this data,” the official said in a statement.
The Obama administration will renew the NSA’s telephone metadata programme until Congress passes new authorising legislation, the official said.
Obama made some decisions about changes to the programmes in January, including a ban on eavesdropping on the leaders of friendly or allied nations.
But he had charged his Attorney General Eric Holder and intelligence agencies to make additional proposals for the metadata programme by March 28, when it comes up for reauthorisation, Reuters reported.
The administration had considered requiring the companies to hold on to data for longer than 18 months, but it rejected that idea after concluding newer data is most important for investigations, the New York Times said.
Two top politicians on the House of Representatives’ intelligence panel were slated on Tuesday to unveil a bipartisan measure on metadata use.
The bill, sponsored by Republican Mike Rogers and Democrat Dutch Ruppersberger, would require the government to “serve a directive” on telecommunication companies for data, the Washington Post reported, citing congressional aides.