Secret Court Approves Obama’s Changes to NSA Phone Sweeps

The decision allows the agency to continue collecting records on billions of calls.

A sign stands outside the National Security Administration (NSA) campus in Fort Meade, Md., Thursday, June 6, 2013.
National Journal
Brendan Sasso
Add to Briefcase
Brendan Sasso
Feb. 6, 2014, 2:50 p.m.

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 »
NEVER TRUMP
USA Today Weighs in on Presidential Race for First Time Ever
5 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"By all means vote, just not for Donald Trump." That's the message from USA Today editors, who are making the first recommendation on a presidential race in the paper's 34-year history. It's not exactly an endorsement; they make clear that the editorial board "does not have a consensus for a Clinton endorsement." But they state flatly that Donald Trump is, by "unanimous consensus of the editorial board, unfit for the presidency."

Source:
COMMISSIONERS NEED TO DELIBERATE MORE
FCC Pushes Vote on Set-Top Boxes
5 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Federal regulators on Thursday delayed a vote on a proposal to reshape the television market by freeing consumers from cable box rentals, putting into doubt a plan that has pitted technology companies against cable television providers. ... The proposal will still be considered for a future vote. But Tom Wheeler, chairman of the F.C.C., said commissioners needed more discussions."

Source:
UNTIL DEC. 9, ANYWAY
Obama Signs Bill to Fund Government
11 hours ago
THE LATEST
REDSKINS IMPLICATIONS
SCOTUS to Hear Case on Offensive Trademarks
11 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

"The Supreme Court is taking up a First Amendment clash over the government’s refusal to register offensive trademarks, a case that could affect the Washington Redskins in their legal fight over the team name. The justices agreed Thursday to hear a dispute involving an Asian-American rock band called the Slants, but they did not act on a separate request to hear the higher-profile Redskins case at the same time." Still, any precedent set by the case could have ramifications for the Washington football team.

Source:
IT’S ALL CLINTON
Reliable Poll Data Coming in RE: Debate #1
13 hours ago
WHY WE CARE
×