Boehner backs end to NSA metadata collection

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is getting behind a House plan to end government collection of people’s phone records.

“The bill represents the start of a bipartisan conversation about how we maintain our capabilities to thwart attacks, while addressing privacy and civil liberties concerns that many Americans have,” he said at a press conference on Wednesday.  

“And so I expect that part of this effort will include the end of the government holding on to bulk data.”

The FISA Transparency and Modernization Act, unveiled by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and ranking member Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) on Tuesday, would end the controversial National Security Agency’s (NSA) collection of bulk records about Americans’ phone calls. The program, revealed in documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden last year, has outraged privacy and civil liberties advocates for months.

The NSA program collects records about the phone numbers people dial, the length of their calls and how often they make the calls, but not the content of their conversations. Those records are kept in an NSA database for five years.

Under the House Intel bill, the government would no longer control that database.

Instead, private phone companies, which already keep track of their users’ calls for billing and other purposes, would keep the records for the 18 months that current regulations require. Government agents would be able to search those records with a “reasonable articulable suspicion” that a person was connected to a terrorist. A court would then review those searches after the fact.

The proposal is similar to a reported White House plan to rein in the NSA. President Obama’s plan, however, would require court approval before agents could search for information about a particular phone number.

Supporters of the NSA’s program have said that it has helped connect the dots between terrorists, and Boehner on Wednesday said that the new plan would continue to protect the country.

“As you know, I’ve long said these programs exist to save American lives — and they have,” he said.

“Ultimately, I’m hopeful that bipartisan cooperation will lead to results that all sides can support – and, most importantly, keep America safe.”

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