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Friday 19 September 2014

Obama to call for NSA's storage of millions of texts to end

Published 17/01/2014 | 07:44

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President Barack Obama
Edward Snowden: whistleblower
Edward Snowden

President Barack Obama will call for the National Security Agency's ability to store phone data from millions of Americans to be ended.

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Mr Obama will not say who should ultimately hold the data.

Instead he will today call on the intelligence community and Congress to consult on where it should be maintained, a senior official said.

A presidential commission has recommended moving the data to the telephone companies or a third party.

The president's speech follows an internal review spurred by disclosures about the government's sweeping surveillance programs by former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden.

Many of the changes Mr Obama was expected to announce appeared aimed at shoring up the public's confidence in the spying operations.

That included a move to add an independent privacy advocate to the secretive court that approves the phone record collections.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said yesterday that the President believed the government could make surveillance activities "more transparent in order to give the public more confidence about the problems and the oversight of the programmes".

The US National Security Agency has been gathering nearly 200 million text messages a day from around the world, gathering data on people's travel plans, contacts and credit card transactions, Britain's Guardian newspaper reported today.

Code-named 'Dishfire', the NSA programme collects "pretty much everything it can," the Guardian said, citing a joint investigation with the UK's Channel 4 News based on material from fugitive former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The newspaper said the documents also showed that the British spy agency GCHQ had used the NSA database to search the metadata of "untargeted and unwarranted" communications of people in the United Kingdom.

It added that communications from US phone numbers were removed or "minimised" from the database, while numbers from other countries, including the UK, were kept.

Citing a 2011 NSA presentation subtitled "SMS Text Messages: A Goldmine to Exploit," the Guardian said the program collected 194 million text messages a day on average in April that year.

"The NSA has made extensive use of its vast text message database to extract information on people's travel plans, contact books, financial transactions and more - including of individuals under no suspicion of illegal activity," the Guardian report said.

US President Barack Obama is scheduled to announce reforms on Friday to NSA eavesdropping programs, prompted by disclosures from Snowden.

Questions about US government spying on civilians and foreign officials burst into the open in June when Snowden leaked secrets about mass collection of telephone data and other secret eavesdropping programs to newspapers before fleeing to Hong Kong and then to Moscow.

Asked about the Guardian article, the NSA said, "As we have previously stated, the implication that NSA's collection is arbitrary and unconstrained is false."

The agency's activities "are focused and specifically deployed against - and only against - valid foreign intelligence targets in response to intelligence requirements," the NSA said in a statement, adding that Dishfire processed and lawfully stored collected text-message, or SMS data.

"Because some SMS data of U.S. persons may at times be incidentally collected in NSA's lawful foreign intelligence mission, privacy protections for U.S. persons exist across the entire process concerning the use, handling, retention, and dissemination of SMS data in DISHFIRE," the agency said.

"In addition, NSA actively works to remove extraneous data, to include that of innocent foreign citizens, as early as possible in the process," it said.

Press Association and Reuters

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