US PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA has outlined plans for ending the Section 215 metadata programme that has seen the US National Security Agency (NSA) collecting petabytes of data on US citizens' telephone calls and text messages.
Section 215 of the Patriot Act of 2001 refers to "Access to Certain Business Records for Foreign Intelligence and International Terrorism Investigations". However in the wake of revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden it became clear that the quantity of data being collecting far outstripped need, was being used for investigations that fell well outside the remit of the Patriot Act, and invaded the privacy of the citizens it was designed to protect.
In a speech on Thursday, Obama sketched out plans for a replacement to the programme that would see telecoms companies obliged to keep records as they do today and supply them to security agencies only upon request, based on a ruling by a judge at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court that the request was a matter of national security.
President Obama said, "I believe this approach will 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."
Records provided would be limited to "two hops" from the selection term used and the government's use of the data it obtains would be independently monitored and governed by the FISA court to ensure minimal access.
Companies could be compelled by court order to provide assistance to the government to ensure that the data was made available timely and in a usable format.
The new legislation will have to go before Congress, and that will take time. In the meantime a radically altered Section 215 will be reauthorised by the FISA court to enable legislative debate. µ