WASHINGTON: The Senate Intelligence Committee three years ago secretly considered — but ultimately rejected — alternate ways for the National Security Agency to collect and store massive amounts of Americans’ phone records.
One of those options, outlined in a classified 2011 NSA analysis and reviewed in detail during closed committee meetings, was similar to what President Barack Obama is now advocating: that the government stop the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records and instead ask phone companies to search their own business records for terrorism connections.
After reviewing the 2011 NSA analysis, the Senate overseers decided not move forward with any alternate arrangement, according to two government officials familiar with the review. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the classified report.
The 2011 report is significant because not much has changed — operationally — with the NSA’s phone records program in the past three years. What has changed is that Americans now know the extent of the once-classified, massive surveillance operation, and they’re not happy with what they consider to be invasions of privacy.
Obama’s decision to call for changes in the program is not because he believes the program is flawed. It’s because he needs to regain the trust of the American public.
“I want to emphasize once again that some of the dangers that people hypothesize when it came to bulk data, there were clear safeguards against,” Obama said this week. “But I recognize that people were concerned about what might happen in the future with that bulk data.”
The director of the NSA, Gen. Keith Alexander, said the new approach addresses civil liberty and privacy concerns.