NSA Ends Bulk Collection of Americans’ Phone Data, Moves to More ‘Focused and Targeted’ Approach

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The seals of the U.S. Cyber Command, the National Secrity Agency and the Central Security Service greet employees and visitors at the campus the three organizations share March 13, 2015 in Fort Meade, Maryland. (Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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The U.S. intelligence community on Sunday will cease its bulk collection of telephone metadata.

The government will move to a more “focused and targeted” approach in gathering intelligence, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in a statement. The shift comes more than two years after details about the program were leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

President Barack Obama in June signed a reform measure that took away the National Security Agency’s authority to collect in bulk the phone records of millions of Americans.

The USA Freedom Act requires the government obtain a targeted warrant or court order to collect phone metadata from telecommunications companies.

Backers said the program was set up to help locate suspected terrorist activity since the September 11 attacks. The government accessed times calls were logged, to what number and their duration — or, in other words, their metadata (but not content). Civil liberty groups said the old system allowed the government too much power to snoop on citizens.

The NSA has requested limited access to historical metadata until February 29, 2016. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is weighing the request.

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