TOPICS > Politics

Obama administration to rein in bulk data collection

BY Domenico Montanaro, Terence Burlij and Simone Pathe  March 25, 2014 at 9:46 AM EST
Activists protest the surveillance of U.S. citizens by the NSA outside the Justice Department Jan. 17. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Activists protest the surveillance of U.S. citizens by the NSA outside the Justice Department Jan. 17. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Morning Line

  • Obama proposes NSA changes
  • Health care at the Supreme Court
  • Senate moves forward with Ukraine aid bill
  • Biden to New Hampshire
  • Scott Brown trades “Bqhatevwr” for “whatever”

Obama proposes changes to NSA bulk data collection: President Obama is aiming to narrow the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of data with a legislative proposal he will send to Congress, the New York Times reported last night and Morning Line confirms. The proposal, expected “in the coming days,” per a senior administration official, would move housing the data from the government to the phone companies, something the administration has been trying to do for months. It would also require companies to hold data for just a year and a half, rather than the five years the NSA currently holds onto them, which is more in line with federal regulations; the government would have to go to a FISA court to access the data, and could request phone calls and data for up to two connections or “hops” away (it was three before Obama changed that in January); and it will seek to clarify if bulk collection can be done under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. The Bush administration argued it was allowed under that provision. The program, by the way, will remain in place until Congress acts; under the proposal, the program would remain in place for three months.

The news comes just a day before the House Intelligence Committee was expected to unveil its bipartisan legislation on the NSA, days ahead of Friday’s deadline for the Department of Justice to submit its proposals to the White House, and after months of public pressure following revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The administration’s push seems designed to try and thread a needle and get key Democrats, who support the program -– like Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) -– on board. Feinstein defended the NSA program Friday, calling it an “important tool” and constitutional. She also said she could embrace proposed changes if they maintained “operational effectiveness.” A senior administration official said the change “ensures that the government has access to the information it needs to meet the national security needs.” That is going to be the key question for supporters of the program.

Health care law back in court: The president signed the Affordable Care Act into law four years ago Sunday and his signature domestic achievement is still being hotly debated. The arguments on Tuesday will play out at the Supreme Court, where beginning at 10 a.m. ET justices will look at the question of whether for-profit corporations, citing religious objections, can refuse to provide health care coverage that includes contraceptive services. It’s a reminder that health care is not going away this election year. Republicans already are hitting Democrats with ads across the country, taking advantage of public disapproval of the rollout of the online exchange. A decision in the case is expected before the end of June. In 2012, Mr. Obama caught a break when the law was upheld. Does the same thing happen in June or does the law -– and Democrats -– take a hit just four months or so before the election? The court is also expected to hand down decisions Tuesday, with one of the pending cases dealing with campaign contribution limits. Tune in to the PBS NewsHour tonight for more on Tuesday’s action at the court with the National Law Journal’s Marcia Coyle.

Ukraine aid advances in Senate: A bill to provide aid to Ukraine cleared a procedural vote in the Senate Monday evening, 78-17, far more than the 60 votes needed. But 17 Republicans voted against cloture because they object to the inclusion of International Monetary Fund reforms in the bill, and some of them, like Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, are pushing for an amendment to remove the IMF reform issue. Others are advocating for a delay in IRS regulation of so-called social welfare organizations in return for inclusion of the IMF reforms. The bill is expected to pass the Senate sometime this week. But the stumbling block remains the House, which is considering its own version without the IMF funding.

2016 watch – Biden to N.H.: Vice President Joe Biden happens to be heading to New Hampshire Tuesday to promote job-training programs and raise some money for Granite State Democrats facing tough re-election fights this fall. “Biden’s office says he will participate in photo lines benefiting Gov. Maggie Hassan, and New Hampshire Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Ann Kuster,” reports the Associated Press’ Josh Lederman. The New Hampshire visit, scheduled for 1:45 p.m. ET, is certain to stoke speculation about Biden’s intentions for 2016. The vice president hasn’t ruled out launching a third presidential bid, and fundraising for endangered Democrats is a good way to get in their good graces. The photo line option gives Biden an alternative to setting up a leadership PAC to dole out money to candidates, a strategy Politico’s Glenn Thrush notes the vice president continues to resist. There is no question Biden is laying the groundwork for a bid and will probably run IF Hillary Clinton doesn’t.

2014 watch – Bqhatevwr: Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., who recently picked up a potential challenger in former Massachusetts GOP Sen. Scott Brown, will not be joining Biden on the trip. Her office told the Nashua Telegraph that she would be in Washington Tuesday to chair a subcommittee hearing and for possible votes on the Ukraine aid package. Brown, meanwhile, is planning to capitalize on the vice president’s presence by visiting a New Hampshire hospital for an event his campaign says will be focused on “the harmful impacts of Obamacare on medical care and coverage in the Granite State.” That comes after Brown stumbled a bit in an interview with the AP: “Do I have the best credentials? Probably not. ‘Cause, you know, whatever. But I have long and strong ties to this state.” Brown’s answer shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise though, given this nonchalant Twitter response of 2013.

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