A chief element of President Barack Obama’s attempt to overhaul U.S. surveillance will not work, leaders of Congress’ intelligence committees said Sunday, pushing back against the idea that the government should cede control of how Americans’ phone records are stored.
Obama, under pressure to calm the controversy over government spying, said Friday he wants bulk phone data stored outside the government to reduce the risk that the records will be abused. The president said he will require a special judge’s advance approval before intelligence agencies can examine someone’s data and will force analysts to keep their searches closer to suspected terrorists or organizations.
“And I think that’s a very difficult thing,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Sunday. “Because the whole purpose of this program is to provide instantaneous information to be able to disrupt any plot that may be taking place.”
Under the surveillance program, the NSA gathers phone numbers called and the length of conversations, but not the content of the calls. Obama said the NSA sometimes needs to tap those records to find people linked to suspected terrorists. But he said eventually, the bulk data should be stored somewhere out of the government’s hands. That could mean finding a way for phone companies to store the records, or it could mean creating a third-party entity to hold the records.
Feinstein, D-Calif., said many Americans don’t understand that threats persist a dozen years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Obama had intensified a sense of uncertainty about the country’s ability to root out terrorist threats. Obama didn’t say who should have control of Americans’ data; he directed the attorney general and director of national intelligence to find a solution within 60 days.