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NSA Solution to Private Communication Data: Corporations Hold It, We'll Exploit It

Proposal would allow telecoms to hold captured customer records while allowing agency to exploit information

- Jon Queally, staff writer

As the debate over the NSA's massive mining of the personal communication records of Americans continues and as pressure builds for legislative curbs to such collection, the secretive surveillance agency is reportedly kicking around one idea they hope can gain traction with members of Congress: letting third parties, namely private telecom companies, hold and maintain the giant database.

As the Washington Post reports Wednesday:

The National Security Agency is exploring how it could relinquish control of the massive database of domestic phone logs that has been the focus of an intense national debate, according to current and former officials briefed on the discussions.

The agency, in response to political and other pressures, is examining whether there are feasible ways for third parties such as phone companies to hold the data while allowing the agency to exploit the records, the officials said.

The intelligence community is motivated in large part by the prospect that Congress will not renew the NSA’s bulk-collection authority when the statute it is based on expires in June 2015. It is also possible that lawmakers, who are debating legislation to halt the NSA program, could act sooner.

A former senior intelligence official said he expects that the White House “will start the path of shifting it to the phone companies,” but “it’s not going to happen instantly.” Like others in this report, the former official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Describing one possible scenario, a second former intelligence official said: “The phone companies would run the analytics and provide you the analysis: ‘Hey, this bad guy is talking to this bad guy.’ ”

In other words, the NSA is saying, "Let's privatize the attack on privacy."

Curiously, however, the telecom giants don't seem to like the idea very much. As the Post continues:

The NSA’s director, Gen. Keith Alexander, told the advisory panel, the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, that the “NSA itself has seriously considered moving to a model in which the data are held by the private sector.” But, according to a review group member, Alexander told the group that “no one else wanted it — especially not the phone companies.” Alexander, the member said, “described it as a ‘bit of a hot potato.’ ”

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