The Wall Street Journal reports: The departing National Security Agency chief offered senators an unexpected option Thursday for restructuring the agency’s U.S. phone-data collection program: narrow it to obtain only terrorism-related data.
The remarks by NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander were striking because the government’s justification for the data-collection program has been that the NSA needs the full database of Americans’ call records to uncover otherwise unknown terrorist connections.
But Gen. Alexander instead signaled that the information the NSA needs about terrorist connections might be obtainable without first collecting what officials have termed “the whole haystack” of U.S. phone data.
Explaining the option, he told the Senate Armed Services Committee that intelligence agencies could “look at what data you actually need and get only that data.”
This is the argument many privacy advocates have made since the details of the phone-data-collection program were disclosed in June by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. They say it is unnecessary to obtain records from millions of ordinary Americans to seek out terrorists.
Gen. Alexander suggested that teasing out the relevant data would involve a mechanism under which the NSA would make classified requests to phone companies asking for data only for phone numbers associated with terrorist suspects. [Continue reading…]
I didn’t hear the actual testimony, but the way it is reported here makes it sound like Alexander is suggesting that mass collection of U.S. phone data might no longer be necessary.
But the only thing that he seems to be saying may be unnecessary is for the NSA to do the collection.
For the NSA to make classified requests to the phone companies, it is those companies that would need to be doing the mass data collection.
And maybe that now looks like an appealing option not only because it would provide the NSA with extra constitutional protection; it might also create opportunities for even more extensive data collection with even less oversight.