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Sen. Dianne Feinstein on NSA Ruling: Telecom Companies Should Hold Data

The Democratic senator from California said that the Patriot Act's controversial bulk data collection program should continue in some form.

The leading Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that telecommunications companies should store data as part of reforms to the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection program.

“I know the president believes that the telecoms will hold the data. I think we should try that,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said in an interview airing Sunday.

She went on to say that Congress could compel private companies to hold the data. However, separate bills offered by the House and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., do not include that provision.

A federal court of appeals ruled last week that the NSA bulk collection program was illegal. All three judges on the panel ruled that the federal government did not have the legal justification to compile data to be searched at a later date.

Feinstein said that while the president and some members of Congress support changes to the surveillance program, a way forward to a solution is not as clear.

“The president, the House and a number of members of the Senate believe that we need to change that program. And the way to change it is simply to go to the FISA Court for a query, permission to go to a telecom and get that data,” Feinstein said, referring to the court that rules on the government’s surveillance requests. “The question is whether the telecoms will hold the data. The answer to that question is somewhat mixed.” The provision within the Patriot Act that governs the bulk data collection program expires June 1st.

Back in January 2014, during a speech at the Department of Justice, President Barack Obama announced reforms to the NSA’s bulk phone data collection program. He called for ultimately storing the records with a third party and the creation of an advocacy panel to go before the FISA court, short for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

In February of this year, the Obama administration released new rules on NSA collection of personal data. They stipulate that agencies must discard information on both American citizens and foreigners if it is not pertinent to any investigation.

— Daniel Cooney