updated 01:25 pm EST, Fri February 7, 2014
Agrees to measures requiring court approval for NSA metadata searches
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has given its approval to changes President Barack Obama has requested as part of a surveillance reforms speech last month. Two measures in the reforms have been accepted by the court, which will affect the way the National Security Agency (NSA) searches its phone records database in the future.
One measure accepted by the court was for the NSA to seek approval from the court for each search of the database, reports the National Journal, something which was previously left to the judgment of NSA analysts on whether there was "reasonable" suspicion a number was associated with terrorism. The second measure, a reduction of the number of degrees of separation from the individual being investigated from three to two, has also been accepted.
President Barack Obama announcing NSA reforms
The court-accepted measures form only part of the overall reforms. At present, the phone records metadata is held by the government itself, but as outlined in the reforms, it would be held by an independent third party. Obama asked Attorney General Eric Holder and intelligence officials to write a plan for transferring the database away from government control, and though there has been little in the way of updates for this, The Verge notes the Office of the Director of National Intelligence put out a public request for information, in order to produce the proposal.
The extent of the data collection activities of the NSA has also been called into question, with some suggesting it to be far lower than first thought. Officials speaking to the Washington Post claim the NSA collects metadata on less than 30 percent of all American phone calls, with the Wall Street Journal claiming 20 percent. It is also said that the data collection is significantly down from 2006, when the NSA recorded details for almost all calls, but it plummeted down to the current figure last summer because of callers opting to use cellular networks rather than landlines. There are apparently plans to request carriers that do not provide data to the NSA via a court order, something which would raise the percentage of call records collected close to original levels.
A recent transparency report from Verizon revealed it had to respond to over 320,000 requests from federal agencies in 2013, including close to 1,500 concerning wiretaps and between 1,000 and 2,000 National Security Letters.