FISC okays two of President Barack Obama's proposed changes to NSA surveillance

February 8
10:08 AM 2014

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court or FISC has given its stamp of approval to two of the changes proposed by President Barack Obama on the National Security Agency's capability to spy on US telecommunications,  VentureBeat reported citing an announcement from the Obama administration.

President Obama had ordered the NSA to restructure its "bulk telephony metadata program" in his speech delivered January 17. The program obtained records of millions of phone calls in the US. In a statement issued by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, the intent of the restructuring is to "establish a mechanism that preserves the capabilities we need without the government holding this bulk data," the report said.

That proposal has now been approved by the FISC. Thus, the collected telephony metadata can only be obtained after proof of the existence of a "true emergency" as determined by the court itself has been given. Before, the reasonableness of a threat was made only by the NSA and not the courts, the report said.

Moreover, queries to the metadata would now be limited in scope as it would be extended to only "two hops"-it was three before-from the targeted information. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Senator Patrick Leahy told reporters after the approval was given by the court that although he is happy that safeguards have been imposed by the administration, the collection program itself must shut down, the report said.

Leahy is not alone. The independent NSA review panel appointed by Obama also recommended that "the government should not be permitted to collect and store all mass, undigested, nonpublic personal information about individuals to enable future queries and data-mining for foreign intelligence purposes."

The panel recommended that instead of the government storing bulk telephony meta-data, private providers or a private third party should hold it and only an FISC order should allow access to it, the report said.

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