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Report: Obama to give up NSA's phone call sweep

Updated: March 24, 2014 10:20PM

Nine months have passed since “Edward Snowden” became a household name, and now comes news the Obama administration is gearing up to reveal plans for a major overhaul to the National Security Agency’s once-secretive phone records program he shined a spotlight on, according to a report by the New York Times.

The changes, if approved by Congress, would curtail the aspect of the plan privacy advocates found most appalling: namely the systematic collection of data about Americans’ calling habits.

According to the New York Times, phone companies would not be required to hold the data longer than usual, and the N.S.A., in order to access it, would have to obtain permission from a judge.

Obama had instructed Justice Department and intelligence officials to come up with a plan by Friday — when the order authorizing the program expires.

The proposal will seek to renew the program in its current state for at least one more 90-day cycle, while, at the same time, acknowledging the program would later be transformed, senior administration officials told the Times.

Under the new plan, phone companies would be required to make available, on a continuing basis, data about any new calls placed or received after ab order is received, the officials said.

The plans would also allow the government to seek information on two calls, or “hops,” removed from the number that has come under suspicion.

Phone data is now kept by the N.S.A. for five years. Obama’s administration, despite considering the measure, will not require phone companies to hold calling records any longer than the 18 months that federal regulations already generally require because intelligence agencies determined that older data is less important, the Times reported.

The secret phone records program, designed to find and thwart terrorist threats, was initiated under President George W. Bush after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, outside of any legal framework or court oversight.

Snowden, a former N.S.A. contractor revealed the program and is currently living in Russia, beyond the reach of the U.S. government, which is seeking to prosecute him for leaking information on the several secretive surveillance program to the media.

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