Obama to end NSA telephone-records collection program

posted at 8:41 am on March 25, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

The White House has finally determined that government collection and retention of telephone data has become too toxic to defend any longer. Barack Obama will move to end the NSA surveillance program that collected and stored the data, instead asking the telephone companies to retain it in case they need to access it — authorized by a court order:

The Obama administration is preparing legislation that would end the National Security Agency’s widespread collection of Americans’ phone data while, officials say, preserving the government’s ability to gain information about terrorists.

The legislation, senior officials say, would allow data about phone calls made to and from Americans to be kept with the phone companies. The companies would not be required to hold the data longer than they normally would. …

The proposal, which is still being worked on, would require phone companies to provide data about suspected terrorist numbers under a court order, officials said. It would include making available on a real-time, ongoing basis data about any new calls made to or from the suspect’s number after the order is served — an idea embraced by NSA leaders, officials said.

Actually, Obama wants Congress to end the program, even though Congress never explicitly started it:

Congress passed the PATRIOT Act, which Obama supported as Senator and then as President, including the Section 215 language that the NSA and Obama insisted gave permission for the NSA’s program. The text of Section 215, however, only expands the authority of the FBI to access data as part of a court order. The argument that this allows the NSA to conduct its mass collection of data is one advanced by both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations as an executive-branch interpretation.

The New York Times offers a helpful recap of that history:

The N.S.A. uses the once-secret call records program — sometimes known as the 215 program, after Section 215 of the Patriot Act — to analyze links between callers in an effort to identify hidden terrorist associates, if they exist. It was part of the secret surveillance program that President George W. Bush unilaterally put in place after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, outside of any legal framework or court oversight.

In 2006, as part of a broader Bush administration effort to put its programs on a firmer legal footing, the Justice Department persuaded the surveillance court to begin authorizing the program. It claimed that Section 215, which allows the F.B.I. to obtain court orders for business records deemed “relevant” to an investigation, could be interpreted as allowing the N.S.A. to collect domestic calling records in bulk. …

Marc Rotenberg, the executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, called the administration’s proposal a “sensible outcome, given that the 215 program likely exceeded current legal authority and has not proved to be effective.” While he said that he would like to see more reforms to other surveillance authorities, he said the proposal addressed the major concerns with the bulk records program.

In other words, this doesn’t require an act of Congress to end, especially since the proposal won’t require telcos to retain records any longer than they currently do or for any particular period of time. Obama could order the NSA to simply stop collecting the data. After all, there is literally nothing in Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act that requires NSA to perform this task; it doesn’t even mention the NSA at all, only the FBI.

So why doesn’t he do so? Obama has certainly had few issues with taking executive action for his own agenda, and then publicly bragging about it. This looks like an attempt to have Congress take the responsibility for killing this program in case anything happens afterward — a way to dodge responsibility for the consequences, in other words. Congress should politely remind Obama that this actually does fall within the executive branch’s authority and suggest that what the executive branch orders, it can also stop all by itself.

Gabriel Malor notes that a couple of the provisions in this would require Congress to act:

These are fair points, but the interpretation from the executive branch already is that Section 215 allows for bulk data collection. If they’re stopping that, then this is (a) an academic point, and (b) no impediment to stopping it now. The same is true for granting the executive branch a “judicial role” in seeking records, because the process in place would have the judiciary perform it until Congress acts — and in that case, it sounds like a bad idea anyway. And again, it would be no impediment to stopping the massive collection now either.


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Barack Obama will move to end the NSA surveillance program

Just like he moved to close GITMO. Are we sure he didn’t just shift in his seat to fart?

tdarrington on March 25, 2014 at 8:46 AM

I wonder if the standing ovations that Rand Paul received from the kids at Berkley played any role in getting the Administration to finally move.

Democrats can’t possibly tolerate part of their base cheering a Republican, especially one that may be running for POTUS in 2016 against a possible Hillary Clinton candidacy. Clinton has come out in support of the NSA although she has called for some minor reforms.

Resist We Much on March 25, 2014 at 8:46 AM

This looks like an attempt to have Congress take the responsibility for killing this program in case anything happens afterward — a way to dodge responsibility for the consequences, in other words.

Bingo.

Stoic Patriot on March 25, 2014 at 8:47 AM

So, Obama “moves to end surveillance” by telling congress to do it therefore, Obama solved the problem. Congress never gets around to doing anything, or refuses, because they don’t need to do anything. The program continues, but Obama fixed it because he moved to end it.

tdarrington on March 25, 2014 at 8:49 AM

The fact that the act “allows” bulk data collection, does not mean bulk data collection is required.

The NSA is within the purview of the executive branch. Zero can stop the NSA and all the other intelligence agencies from spying on us any time of his choosing, with no permission from congress.

If those resources were directed at our enemies… they would still be ineffective due to the PC handcuffs.

dogsoldier on March 25, 2014 at 8:50 AM

This looks like an attempt to have Congress take the responsibility for killing this program in case anything happens afterward — a way to dodge responsibility for the consequences, in other words.

If there are any potential negative consequences Dear Liar wants no responsibility. He was raised not taking responsibility for his actions and sees no reason to change that.

rbj on March 25, 2014 at 8:50 AM

Well so much for the pen and phone thing. I guess he wants to make Congress co-conspirators in his crimes against American civil rights.

Happy Nomad on March 25, 2014 at 8:50 AM

LOL. Guess Obama’s “Executive Order Pen” ran out of ink.

albill on March 25, 2014 at 8:51 AM

Obama has certainly had few issues with taking executive action for his own agenda, and then publicly bragging about it. This looks like an attempt to have Congress take the responsibility for killing this program in case anything happens afterward — a way to dodge responsibility for the consequences, in other words.

Let’s be fair Ed. Maybe he lost his phone and his pen.

Flora Duh on March 25, 2014 at 8:54 AM

Obama could order the NSA to simply stop collecting the data. After all, there is literally nothing in Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act that requires NSA to perform this task; it doesn’t even mention the NSA at all, only the FBI.

So why doesn’t he do so?

Because he wants to force Republican’s to vote on it.

The ones that vote to end it will anger the national security wing of the party. The ones who vote to keep it will anger the libertarian wing of the party.

Lousy President but clever politician.

kcewa on March 25, 2014 at 8:59 AM

We are supposed to just take the Liar in Chief at his word?

captnjoe on March 25, 2014 at 9:01 AM

Obama isn’t going to issue an imperial decree EO ?

workingclass artist on March 25, 2014 at 9:04 AM

Rand Paul and his visit to Berkley…living rent free in Dogeater’s head

workingclass artist on March 25, 2014 at 9:05 AM

Because he wants to force Republican’s to vote on it.

The ones that vote to end it will anger the national security wing of the party. The ones who vote to keep it will anger the libertarian wing of the party.

Lousy President but clever politician.

kcewa on March 25, 2014 at 8:59 AM

I agree with you except for one thing. Valerie Jarrett, his puppet master is the brains behind this move. IMO.

Flora Duh on March 25, 2014 at 9:05 AM

Dear leader doesn’t care which side of the tree this rotten apple falls. It’s all politics all the time with him. Since Rand Paul has been using the privacy invasion as a tool to win the young vote, BO wants to take this issue away and if something happens, it’s a win win for the libs.

Kissmygrits on March 25, 2014 at 9:05 AM

I wonder if the standing ovations that Rand Paul received from the kids at Berkley played any role in getting the Administration to finally move…

Resist We Much on March 25, 2014 at 8:46 AM

I would say you’re absolutely right, except Obama’s not moving, he’s just flapping his gums. Plus, this doesn’t mention the internet.

Fenris on March 25, 2014 at 9:07 AM

…but the IRS intimidation will continue…that is all….

ToddPA on March 25, 2014 at 9:09 AM

♫Meet the new NSA,

Same as the old NSA…

We You won’t will get wiretapped again…♫

viking01 on March 25, 2014 at 9:21 AM

Anyone believe this will actually end it?

“Yes, certainly.” *wink* “We wont do that anymore, we promise.” *wink wink*

Midas on March 25, 2014 at 9:21 AM

Obama has a pen and a phone……

Electrongod on March 25, 2014 at 9:21 AM

There is no way Obama will stop the NSA domestic spy program.

NO WAY. I’m shocked he’s even reading that from a teleprompter.

ConstantineXI on March 25, 2014 at 9:27 AM

Headline on this thread is misleading. At least put a question mark behind it.

petefrt on March 25, 2014 at 9:28 AM

Obama has a pen and a phone……

Electrongod on March 25, 2014 at 9:21 AM

Moochelle accidentally took it with her on her China blowout, orgy & stick it to the taxpayers vaycay.

viking01 on March 25, 2014 at 9:28 AM

Oh, Oh did his pen break? Is the phone still working? Has congress suddenly start to work with him? Tune in tomorrow for the next exciting episode of “As the Stomach Turns”!

Herb on March 25, 2014 at 9:32 AM

Good for them. It’s also funny to note that he wants to be able to shift any blame for any terrorist attacks that happen on his watch onto Congress.
 
Classic Obama.
 
Strange that I didn’t see any mention of ending computer surveillance, though. Did any of you (D)s find that part?

rogerb on March 25, 2014 at 9:33 AM

Rand Paul takes some credit on NSA plan

Sen. Rand Paul on Tuesday praised reports that President Barack Obama is moving toward ending the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone data, saying he’s willing to take some credit.

“I don’t want to take all the credit for ending this, but I think our lawsuit had something to do with bringing the president to the table,” Paul said on Fox News’s “Fox and Friends” on Tuesday.

Flora Duh on March 25, 2014 at 9:36 AM

just another instance of not taking responsibility for programs he supported as senator and president.
While I am glad this MAY happen if done by EO it can later be restarted by EO.
damn patriot act :(

dmacleo on March 25, 2014 at 9:37 AM

Actually, Obama wants Congress to end the program, even though Congress never explicitly started it:

A point Rand Paul mentioned on his victory lap at FNC this morning.

For a man with a pen and a phone (and no regard for any written law), Obama sure is trying to pretend the surveillance court is forcing him to get Congress to repeal something that was never a law to begin with.

Funny how that pen works.

Toocon on March 25, 2014 at 9:38 AM

In related news the NSA just changed its name to the friendlier, more trustworthy acronym “KGB.”

viking01 on March 25, 2014 at 9:40 AM

instead asking the telephone companies to retain it in case they need to access it — authorized by a court order:

Uh huh.

Since when has our dictator-in-chief ever done anything lawfully?!

Sterling Holobyte on March 25, 2014 at 9:42 AM

“I don’t want to take all the credit for ending this…”, Paul said on Fox News’s “Fox and Friends” on Tuesday.

Flora Duh on March 25, 2014 at 9:36 AM

Sure you do Randal. You own it like Obama owns Obamacare.

kcewa on March 25, 2014 at 9:45 AM

instead asking the telephone companies to retain it in case they need to access it — authorized by a court order:

Uh huh.

Since when has our dictator-in-chief ever done anything lawfully?!

Sterling Holobyte on March 25, 2014 at 9:42 AM

Probably about the last time Federal Judges acted Constitutionally.

Way back when Clintoon was just starting to grope colleages back in Arkansas Oxford.

viking01 on March 25, 2014 at 9:46 AM

Rand Paul just lost his advantage (bye, bye Berkeley)

faraway on March 25, 2014 at 9:47 AM

instead asking the telephone companies to retain it in case they need to access it — authorized by a court order:

Uh huh.

Since when has our dictator-in-chief ever done anything lawfully?!

Sterling Holobyte on March 25, 2014 at 9:42 AM

Well, his “judges” are Marxist radicals plucked from faculty lounges…

ConstantineXI on March 25, 2014 at 9:48 AM

“Harry….Barack here…..listen….uh….I’m gonna send a proposal to Congress to stop the NSA program..but….um…..I want you to ensure that bill never sees the light of day in the Senate….got it?

BobMbx on March 25, 2014 at 9:50 AM

Lousy President but clever politician.

kcewa on March 25, 2014 at 8:59 AM

Using power you don’t have, and being allowed to do so, doesn’t require cleverness.

BobMbx on March 25, 2014 at 9:53 AM

Rand Paul just lost his advantage (bye, bye Berkeley)

faraway on March 25, 2014 at 9:47 AM

Good riddance to both.

kcewa on March 25, 2014 at 9:54 AM

Rand Paul just lost his advantage (bye, bye Berkeley)

faraway on March 25, 2014 at 9:47 AM

Dream on.

Rand hasn’t even started in on the Surveillance State and the equally threatening Big Corporation types like Facebook and other surveillance/datamining operations.

The question on privacy isn’t where to stop, it’s where to start. It’s a target-rich environment for Rand.

Toocon on March 25, 2014 at 10:04 AM

Yea Right Barry… just like if you like your plan you can keep your plan

roflmmfao

donabernathy on March 25, 2014 at 10:12 AM

So he’s going to stop what wasn’t going on? Got it.

Mimzey on March 25, 2014 at 10:22 AM

He wants Congress to “act” so he can say that only he can do it- and he won’t. In the name of “social justice” or whatever.

Keep in mind that you are dealing with a narcissistic, egomaniacal sociopath. Part of that is a compulsion to humiliate others while getting his way.

This is a setup to allow him to do it again. It’s the equivalent of the adolescent, “HA-HA!! FOOLED YOU! I’M THE KING, I’M THE KING, I’M THE KING!!!” thing.

Never assume this a$$ is either honest or particularly rational.

clear ether

eon

eon on March 25, 2014 at 10:39 AM

Correction to the story

Obama has decided his operatives had copied enough of the database so now he thinks it is ok to close the NSA program.

OregonPolitician on March 25, 2014 at 10:52 AM

Obama to end NSA telephone-records collection program

…except for conservative groups.

KOOLAID2 on March 25, 2014 at 10:59 AM

“The Obama administration is preparing legislation that would …”

This is obviously a low priority item for the Administration else Obama would use his “phone and pen”

J_Crater on March 25, 2014 at 11:13 AM

I guess getting sued by private citizens finally got Obama’s attention. Sue Holder. Sue Obama for his willingness to try to become a dictator and trash our Constitution. Certainly Congress doesn’t seem to have any interest in doing it, but as individuals apparently it is all that needs to be done. So get let’s get on with it.

BetseyRoss on March 25, 2014 at 12:07 PM

If anyone believes that they only collect meta-data, you are incredibly naive, no you are down right stupid.

Schadenfreude on March 25, 2014 at 12:13 PM

This looks like an attempt to have Congress take the responsibility for killing this program in case anything happens afterward — a way to dodge responsibility for the consequences, in other words.

While that might be a reason, I’d suggest that the most likely reason is that Obama wants to create a fight against the Congressional Republicans. The cynical part in me has a feeling that the legislative proposal will either be a) nothing anyone can really vote on, simply a basic idea on a sticky note, no details, and he’ll excoriate Congress to pass his “legislation”, or b) a detailed piece of legislation that will include one or more poison pills, making it unlikely that Republicans will vote for it, allowing Obama and the Dems to blast the GOP. Either one is likely. We could even see a combination. This will be turned into campaign wedge issue as the mid-terms approach.

And consider that he is only doing this for phone records. What about all the other data collection?

William Teach on March 25, 2014 at 12:15 PM

I notice two things.

1. Rand holds a “Don’t Drone Me, Bro” filibuster for hours in the Senate.

2. The domestic drone programs get scaled back, as do the presidential-ordered drone assassinations overseas, following public acknowledgement of three non-terrorist Americans killed by Obama with overseas drone strikes.

3. Rand sues Barry and Holder over NSA metadata.

4. Suddenly Obama wants Congress to repeal a law that doesn’t even require the NSA to spy on people (but does authorize the FBI).

I’d say Rand Paul has won two prominent policy battles on constitutional issues. I’m trying to think of any other Republicans that have done that much to stop Obama on anything. Can’t think of any…

Toocon on March 25, 2014 at 1:45 PM

The way they play the shell game. I’ll bet that “the N.S.A. won’t be spying on you anymore” really means ” D.H.S. is taking over spying on you”

Paco on March 25, 2014 at 4:23 PM

It’ll be interesting to see how/if congress responds. I wrote and pleaded with my rep to vote for the Amash amendment and she rebuffed my effort. She insisted that NSA spying on me was necessary AND had thwarted dozens of terrorist plots; none that she could write about mind you.

Ogabe said that the spying program was indispensable just about 5-6 months ago. Now it is not? What gives?

kpguru on March 25, 2014 at 4:41 PM

Correction to the story

Obama has decided his operatives had copied enough of the database so now he thinks it is ok to close the NSA program.

OregonPolitician on March 25, 2014 at 10:52 AM

This was my first thought. The DNC has enough data on every man and woman in this country to coerce winning “elections” for the next 20 years or so. Of course Obama can have a presser where he says he ended the program, and the NSA can say “we have stopped data collection” but the fact is that all the technology is still in place just waiting for a few mouse-clicks to fire it all back up.

Murphy9 on March 25, 2014 at 5:08 PM