For Immediate Release
Experts Available: Administration to Announce Reforms to NSA's Bulk Collection Program
WASHINGTON - Last night, the New York Times reported that the Obama administration is planning to end the government’s bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records. Elizabeth Goitein and Faiza Patel, co-directors of Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program, along with Fellow Mike German, are available for your coverage of this breaking story.
Currently, the NSA is able to collect, store, and search millions of Americans’ telephone records under Section 215 of the U.S. PATRIOT ACT. In January, Obama pledged to revise the program, which had drawn criticism from civil liberties and privacy advocates. According to previous reports, the president was weighing four possible reforms, including transferring the storage of records to a private contractor or requiring the telephone companies to hold the data for longer periods of time.
It now appears he has instead chosen to end most aspects of the program. Telephone companies will retain custody of the records going forward and will not be required to hold them for extended times. If the government has reasonable suspicion of a terrorist link, it will obtain an order from the FISA Court requiring the companies to perform regular, ongoing searches for records of the suspect’s calls and turn them over. The court order will also obligate companies to turn over records belonging to the suspect’s contacts.
“The president faced tremendous pressures from his own intelligence agencies to simply tinker around the edges,” said Goitein. “If he has indeed chosen to stand up for the privacy rights of Americans by ending the bulk collection program, he deserves great credit.”
“The indiscriminate collection of phone records is neither legal nor useful,” said Patel. “As the president seems to have recognized, there is no justification for continuing a program that undermines constitutional values with no proven benefit to security.”
“Congress should act quickly to end the bulk record collection program, as the President suggests, but still needs to pass comprehensive surveillance reforms to ensure new suspicion-less collection programs can't be opened again in secret by any future president,” German said. “Traditional law enforcement methods requiring individualized suspicion are more effective than bulk collection programs because they focus resources where there is evidence of wrongdoing.”
Elizabeth Goitein has written on the NSA in the Wall Street Journal (on two occasions), USA Today, Time, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Boston Review; has appeared to discuss the NSA on The Today Show, Andrea Mitchell Reports, All in with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, Up with Steve Kornacki, and The Shepard Smith Show; and has been quoted on this subject in the Washington Post, USA Today, the Daily Beast, The Guardian, Reuters, McClatchy, and Bloomberg, among other outlets.
Faiza Patel has written about surveillance in the New York Times, Salon, msnbc.com, Defense One, and The Huffington Post, has appeared to discuss the NSA on Al Jazeera, Current TV, Wall Street Journal Live, and has been quoted on this subject in the New York Times, the Boston Globe and the Christian Science Monitor, among others.
Mike German has analyzed domestic surveillance in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, MSNBC, Rolling Stone, NPR, Reuters, The Telegraph, National Law Journal, Wired, San Francisco Chronicle, NBC News and on Democracy Now.
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law is a non-partisan public policy and law institute that focuses on fundamental issues of democracy and justice. Our work ranges from voting rights to redistricting reform, from access to the courts to presidential power in the fight against terrorism.