President Barack Obama and the White House administration are currently reviewing four separate options on how the National Security Agency’s (News - Alert) (NSA) phone surveillance program could be reconfigured to reach a balance between American safety and privacy that is acceptable in the eyes of the public. Obama asked the U.S. intelligence agencies and the attorney general back in January for options on an alternative surveillance program. The original deadline was set at March 28th, but the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Justice Department has delivered proposals well ahead of schedule. However, none of the options have received significant support over the others.
The first option proposed to the Obama administration involves allowing phone carriers to retain their data confidentially, and only hand over the information requested by the NSA when deemed appropriate. The NSA would simply inform phone carriers like Verizon and Sprint (News - Alert) when they needed to search the call records of specific phone numbers that are believed to be tied to terrorism. However, telecommunications companies fear that such a surveillance program would simply shift the blame to phone carriers instead of the government for invasions of privacy. They would likely set stringent conditions on outside demands for data, coupled with strict liability protection.
Another second option would see a different government agency holding the data, besides the NSA. Agencies privy to phone information under this system could include the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), or the task could be filed as an expanded role of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. However, this strategy does not seem likely to appease members of the general public who were outraged by Edward Snowden’s reveal, simply seeing another identical government agency picking up where the NSA left off. A third option calls for a non-government third party company to record the data, but this is met with similar concerns that the company could simply serve as an NSA puppet.
The final option presented to the White House is to eliminate phone surveillance entirely, and rely on more traditional intelligence-gathering options to prevent terrorism. While this would significantly hamper the ability to track terrorists on telephone networks, many view it as the best option for preserving the privacy rights of American citizens.