The White House

President Barack Obama has said he wants to shut down the telephone surveillance program that has been the subject of intense controversy since it was revealed in top-secret documents published last summer. The US government will stop maintaining its database of telephone call “metadata,” which includes all numbers dialed in the US as well as their duration and other data.
“Earlier this year, I announced a transition that would end the Section 215 bulk telephony metadata program as it previously existed and that we would establish a mechanism to preserve the capabilities we need without the government holding this bulk metadata,” Obama said in a statement today. “I did so to give the public greater confidence that their privacy is appropriately protected, while maintaining the tools our intelligence and law enforcement agencies need to keep us safe.”
A fact sheet lays out the details of the changes, and they are significant. The data itself will still exist in the hands of the phone companies, as it always has (it’s the same data on your telephone bill), but it can only be queried when the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) approves requests for specific numbers. That’s the difference between the government going to a judge and saying “We’d like to see the metadata for 555-123-4567 and all of his/her contacts” and the government already having all those contacts in its own database with no supervision for individual searches.
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