Washington wonders where to stockpile mountain of NSA data

By Chantal Valery, AFP

WASHINGTON–Figuring out where to house mountains of data collected by the National Security Agency is the thorniest challenge the United States faces in curtailing its massive surveillance, officials said Sunday. In a long-awaited speech designed to quell a furor over the programs exposed by fugitive former contractor Edward Snowden, U.S. President Barack Obama said he was trimming the reach of NSA phone sweeps. He also vowed to halt spy taps on friendly world leaders and proposed new shields for foreigners caught in U.S. data collection. “I believe we need a new approach,” Obama said Friday in announcing changes to how and by whom bulk phone data is kept — including details about the time, duration and specific phone numbers dialed during calls.

The president directed CIA chief James Clapper and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to give him proposals by the end of March on which entity ought to maintain the sensitive information.

Major telecommunications firms have made clear, however, that they are reticent to keep the data. Key U.S. lawmakers, including Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, have expressed concerns that the information would not be readily available to the officials who need it if held by non-governmental entities. “The whole purpose of this program is to provide instantaneous information, to be able to disrupt any plot that may be taking place,” she told NBC television’s “Meet the Press” program. Obama, she said, “wants to keep the capability. He wants to look for others in the government holding the material.” Congressman Michael McCaul, who chairs the House Committee on Homeland Security, agreed that it was key to determine where to house the NSA “metadata.” “I think metadata most significantly won’t be dismantled, but put in the hands of an outside third party,” he told ABC television’s “This Week” show. “I think the attorney general is going to have a very difficult decision to make here.”