Court OKs NSA changes

The federal court that oversees the country’s spy programs has approved President Obama’s plans to limit searches of people’s phone records.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court granted the president’s request to limit the number of records National Security Agency officials could look at and require they obtain a court order first.

The NSA program, which was revealed in documents released by former contractor Edward Snowden, collects information about the numbers people dial, the length of their phone calls and the number of times they make the calls, which is known as metadata. The program does not collect information about the content of people’s calls.

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In a speech last month, Obama ordered an end the program “as it currently exists.”

Obama said that, except in emergency cases, officials should require a court order to search the records database. He also said they should only be able to look at numbers two steps away from a suspected target, instead of the current three.

Those changes needed approval from the FISA Court before they could go into effect. On Wednesday, the court approved that request.

In its approval, the court also told the government to review whether its request and the court’s response could be declassified and released to the public. By Feb. 17, the government will publish whatever portions of those documents it feels are appropriate for public release.

In his speech last month, Obama described the changes as a “transition period.”

He ordered Attorney General Eric Holder to work with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to develop additional options for “a new approach” for the program, which could take the database out of government hands.

Critics at privacy organizations and in Congress have called for Obama to end the program entirely.

Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU's Washington legislative office, said in a statement sent to The Hill that the court’s approval of the changes was a good first step.

"What we need now, though, is not tinkering around the edges but an end to bulk collection,” she added.