The top official at the National Security Agency suggested that the scope of its controversial phone-data collection program could be limited to keep only information related to terrorism.
“I think there’s yet another option where you look at what data you actually need and get only that data,” NSA Director Keith Alexander said, testifying at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday.
That option, he added, assumes the U.S. can “come up with a capability that just gets those that are predicated on a terrorist communication.”
Alexander’s comments are a stark contrast to the NSA’s bulk collection of phone metadata that privacy advocates, and some members of Congress, have criticized. As a former senior intelligence official told The Washington Post last year, the NSA wanted to collect “the whole haystack” rather than “a single needle in the haystack.”
Alexander said a proposal will be submitted to Congress “over the next several weeks.” Each of the options under consideration to modify the program has its pros and cons, he said, adding that officials are focused on how the program’s “agility” would be effected.
A panel commissioned by the White House suggested last year that phone companies or a private third party should hold the metadata, but the industry has shown little interest or support for that proposal. The Obama administration is currently weighing four options on what to do with the program.
Alexander, who will retire this spring, and the NSA have been under near constant criticism since June, when media outlets began to publicly disclose U.S. intelligence-gathering programs, largely using documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Alexander stressed throughout the hearing that the American people need to have a better understanding of what the NSA does, and that a “reset” is needed.