TIME Domestic Surveillance

Boehner Says NSA’s Mass Phone Data Collection Will End

The House Speaker praises new legislation to reform the controversial surveillance program

House Speaker John Boehner signaled his confidence Wednesday that the government will cease its bulk collection of data on millions of Americans’ phone calls, one day after President Barack Obama and House leaders floated competing plans to reform the controversial surveillance program.

Boehner’s comments came while describing a new bill from the House Intelligence Committee that is similar to the Obama’s proposal. The rare points of agreement between the White House and the GOP-controlled House make it increasingly likely the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of telephone, email and Internet records will be drastically scaled back if not ended altogether.

“The bill represents a start of a bipartisan conversation about how we maintain our capability to thwart attack while addressing privacy and civil liberties concerns that many Americans have,” Boehner said of the House bill introduced Tuesday, while also reiterating his belief that the programs have saved American lives. “I expect that part of this effort will include the end of the government holding on to bulk data.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and ranking member Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) unveiled a bill Tuesday that would allow the NSA to issue subpoenas for specific phone records without prior judicial approval. To assuage privacy concerns, the government would have to provide evidence supporting its targeting to the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which could order the government to purge any metadata it received.

“Our bipartisan proposal authorizes the government to obtain only the metadata it uses to guard against terrorists and other foreign bad actors,” Rogers wrote in an op-ed for USA Today. “We would allow the government to obtain records of individual numbers for which there is a reasonable and articulable suspicion of an association with international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activity, plus the records of numbers connected with those suspect numbers.”

Obama’s plan would also end bulk collection of metadata, but require judicial approval before the NSA could obtain the records, not after. Obama said Tuesday that while there were “clear safeguards” in place, his proposal would eliminate the concern about what might happen with the data in the future.

Privacy hawks remains unswayed by the House proposal. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who has competing legislation, scoffed at Ruppersberger’s comments that the House legislation will give the NSA a “flexible” system.”

“We’ve seen what the NSA does with their flexibility,” Leahy said, “and it’s been a disaster.”

Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor whose leaks of secret NSA spying programs incited global outrage, said Tuesday that OBama’s plan represents a “turning point.”

“I believed that if the NSA’s unconstitutional mass surveillance of Americans was known, it would not survive the scrutiny of the courts, the Congress, and the people,” Snowden wrote on the American Civil Liberties Union’s website.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser