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Obama: Government Shouldn't Hold Metadata in Bulk

President Barack Obama says that the government should no longer collect and hold bulk telephone records for national security purposes.
Image: NSA allegedly collecting mobile phone text messages worldwide
epa04027871 People use their iPhone mobile devices to write text messages at a NBA basketball game at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA, 17 January 2014. According to news reports citing top secret documents, the National Security Agency (NSA) allegedly collects some 200 million text messages and other personal data from mobile phones around the globe every day under an NSA program codenamed 'Dishfire'. EPA/LARRY W. SMITHLARRY W. SMITH / EPA

President Barack Obama says that the government should no longer collect or hold bulk telephone records for national security purposes.

In a statement, Obama said that -- after consultation with the intelligence community, Congress, privacy groups and other stakeholders -- he believes that the records should remain with telephone companies and the government should only be able to obtain them through a judge except in the case of emergencies.

From the statement:

Having carefully considered the available options, I have decided that the best path forward is that the government should not collect or hold this data in bulk. Instead, the data should remain at the telephone companies for the length of time it currently does today. The government would obtain the data pursuant to individual orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) approving the use of specific numbers for such queries, if a judge agrees based on national security concerns. Legislation will be needed to permit the government to obtain this information with the speed and in the manner that will be required to make this approach workable.

According to the White House plan, telephone companies would also be required by court order to provide technical assistance to the government to ensure that the data can be easily searched in appropriate situations and that the results can be provided quickly and in a usable format.

A senior administration official said that the White House has spoken with telephone providers to address their concerns since Obama's January 17 speech on potential overhauls to the NSA metadata program.

The White House says that Congress must pass legislation to put this proposal in place. The House Intelligence Committee has unveiled legislation similar to the president’s plan to address the NSA metadata overhaul.

Obama said that his proposed approach would "best ensure that we have the information we need to meet our intelligence needs while enhancing public confidence in the manner in which the information is collected and held."