Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Bulk Collection of Americans’ Telephone Records Should Be Suspended Immediately
Press Release

RELEASE: Bulk Collection of Americans’ Telephone Records Should Be Suspended Immediately

Washington, D.C. — Today, as President Barack Obama prepares to deliver a major speech regarding the National Security Agency’s intelligence collection activities on Americans and around the world, the Center for American Progress released a recommendation that President Obama should immediately suspend bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records.

“President Obama has an opportunity to set the right balance between security and privacy in the global information age, but the window is closing,” said Ken Gude, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and author of the analysis. “Mass data collection in the modern digital world has the potential to force Americans to choose between full participation in our society and economy and their right to keep intimate details about their life out of the hands of the government. Now is the time for President Obama to get the government out of the mass data collection business.”

President Obama should immediately suspend bulk metadata collection under Section 215 of the Patriot Act and instead require the NSA to obtain an order from the FISA Court for each specific query. The NSA could secure individual orders under Section 215 for call records pertaining to any identifier that meets their current RAS standard, and each order would cover current telephone metadata records residing with the phone companies and those in the existing database of such records.

The president should also request that the phone companies ensure that they preserve these call-record data in a similar format to how they are currently transmitted to the NSA for a period of at least 18 months. Current federal regulations require the phone companies to store these data for 18 months for accuracy in billing, and the president should make clear that the phone companies must preserve the records in a format that allows the companies to be quickly responsive to FISA Court orders. This would give Congress and the president ample time to create through legislation a nonprofit third-party entity to serve as the repository of a consolidated database of records from multiple companies. This would get the government out of the data collection business and provide meaningful distance from the program for telephone companies so as not to harm their business by the specter of association with mass data collection.

Suspending bulk collection in this manner preserves the NSA’s capability to access metadata for counterterrorism purposes while Congress and the president work out new legislation, and, therefore, it does not harm national security. Taking this decisive action would also establish a clear and strong position for the president with the American people and help restore their trust that the government is not in the mass collection business.

Read the analysis: It’s Time to Get the Government Out of the Mass Collection Business by Ken Gude

To speak with an expert, contact Anne Shoup at [email protected] or 202.481.7146.