The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has approved President Obama’s changes to the National Security Agency program that collects records on virtually all U.S. phone calls, the administration announced late Thursday.
In a bid to ease growing outrage over NSA surveillance, Obama announced immediate changes last month to the controversial program, which was first revealed by Edward Snowden. Obama ordered the NSA to seek court approval every time it wants to access the vast database of phone records. NSA analysts were previously supposed to have a “reasonable, articulable suspicion” that a phone number was associated with terrorism before accessing its call records — but it was up to the NSA and not any outside judge to make that determination.
Obama also reduced the degrees of separation that NSA analysts could stray from their initial target from three to two.
According to the announcement by the director of national intelligence, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees the NSA programs, approved Obama’s new tougher privacy standards on Wednesday. The actual court ruling remains secret.
The approval is unsurprising as the court had already approved the less stringent standards on numerous occasions.
In his speech last month, Obama also directed Attorney General Eric Holder and top intelligence officials to develop a plan for the NSA to give up control over the massive phone database. The details of how the NSA could continue mining the records for possible terrorist connections while not retaining control of the database remain unclear.
For now, the NSA will continue its sweeps of billions of phone records.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy applauded the new limits on the NSA data collection, but he vowed to continue pushing his legislation to end the program altogether.
“I am glad to see that the administration is moving forward to impose important safeguards on its bulk collection of Americans’ phone records,” Leahy said. “But we must do more than just reform the government’s bulk phone records collection program; we should shut it down.”
What We're Following See More »
"The FBI rejected a recent White House request to publicly knock down media reports about communications between Donald Trump's associates and Russians known to US intelligence during the 2016 presidential campaign, multiple US officials briefed on the matter tell CNN. But a White House official said late Thursday that the request was only made after the FBI indicated to the White House it did not believe the reporting to be accurate."
Sen. Susan Collins, who sits on the Intelligence Committee, "said on Wednesday she's open to using a subpoena to investigate President Donald Trump's tax returns for potential connections to Russia." She said the committee is also open to subpoenaing Trump himself. "This is a counter-intelligence operation in many ways," she said of Russia's interference. "That's what our committee specializes in. We are used to probing in depth in this area."
"Top lawyers who helped the Obama White House craft and hold to rules of conduct believe President Donald Trump and his staff will break ethics norms meant to guard against politicization of the government — and they’ve formed a new group to prepare, and fight. United to Protect Democracy, which draws its name from a line in President Barack Obama’s farewell address that urged his supporters to pick up where he was leaving off, has already raised a $1.5 million operating budget, hired five staffers and has plans to double that in the coming months." Meanwhile, NPR has launched a "Trump Ethics Monitor" to track the resolution of ten ethics-related promises that the president has made.