Fri., 9:12am: NSA phone data control to come to end

WASHINGTON – Seeking to calm a furor over U.S. surveillance powers, President Barack Obama on Friday will call for ending the government’s control of phone data from hundreds of millions of Americans and require intelligence agencies to get a secretive court’s permission before accessing the records, a senior administration official said.

However, congressional officials say the moves would require approval from lawmakers, raising questions about how quickly – or even whether – the proposals could be enacted by a Congress that is divided over the future of the government’s spying operations.

Obama will announce the decisions in a highly anticipated speech at the Justice Department. He will not offer his own plan for where the phone records should be moved and will instead call on the attorney general and intelligence community to recommend a transfer point before March 28, when the collection program comes up for reauthorization. The official says the administration will also consult with Congress on the data transfer.

Privacy advocates say moving the data outside the government’s control could minimize the risk of unauthorized or overly broad searches by the NSA. A presidential review panel proposed moving the data to the telephone companies or a third party. However, the phone providers have balked at changes that would put them back in control of the records, citing liability concerns if hackers or others were able to gain unauthorized access to the records.

The moves are more sweeping than what many U.S. officials had been anticipating about the president’s surveillance decisions. People close to the White House review process say Obama was grappling with the key decisions on the phone record collections – known as Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act – even in the days leading up to Friday’s speech.

But the changes are expected to be met with pushback from some in the intelligence community, who have been pressing Obama to keep the surveillance programs largely intact.

The administration official insisted on anonymity because this person was not authorized to discuss the president’s decisions, by name, ahead of his speech.

Reacting to reports of Obama’s plan, retired Gen. Michael Hayden, a former NSA director, said “no one will hold it (the phone data) as well.”