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Surveillance court renews NSA phone records program

The FISA court approves the metadata collection program for the 36th time in seven years

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A U.S. surveillance court has renewed its approval of a U.S. National Security Agency program that collects U.S. residents' telephone records in bulk.

The U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on Friday again approved the NSA phone records program amid multiple lawsuits challenging the legality of the program and more than 20 bills in Congress that seek to alter the program.

The U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence asked the FISC for a renewal of the telephone records metadata collection program, the ODNI said in a statement Friday.

A judge in New York has ruled in favor of the NSA in a lawsuit alleging the program violates the U.S. Constitution, while Judge Richard Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled in December that the program likely violates the Fourth Amendment. In California, defendants in a terrorism case lost an appeal to have their convictions overturned after they challenged the constitutionality of the surveillance program.

The New York and California court decisions, along with the findings of 15 FISC judges on 36 separate occasions over seven years support the view of President Barack Obama's administration that "the telephony metadata collection program is lawful," ODNI spokesman Shawn Turner said in the statement.

Still, the U.S. intelligence community "continues to be open to modifications to this program that would provide additional privacy and civil liberty protections while still maintaining its operational benefits," Turner added.

The Obama administration is "carefully evaluating" recommendations of the President's Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, the statement added. In December, the Obama-appointed task force recommended major changes to the telephone records program and questioned its effectiveness.

In addition, a report from the U.S. Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is due in the coming weeks. "The administration will review all of these recommendations and consult with Congress and the Intelligence Community to determine if there are ways to achieve our counterterrorism mission in a manner that gives the American people greater confidence," the ODNI statement said.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.



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