WASHINGTON — National Security Agency analysts can no longer query massive cell phone metadata databases, senior administration officials told reporters on a conference call Friday morning.
The call came ahead of President Obama’s much-anticipated NSA reform speech, which comes months after former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden turned the world’s attention to the capabilities of America’s snooping agencies by leaking thousands of documents.
The officials outlined a long list of reforms to intelligence collection, many of which will require Congress to act and could take months to be implemented. But the officials insisted the NSA is already changing the way it operates thanks to new directives from Obama.
CBS’s Major Garrett asked an administration official what would be different Friday for the average NSA analyst working with cellphone metadata.
“What can’t I do or what steps do I have to go through now…to query data that has sparked my interest in an ongoing and legally authorized surveillance case?” he asked.
“The most tangible thing there, Major, with respect to the 215 program at the president will say, is that he is going to ask the attorney general to go to the FISA court that will have to implement this to modify the program as it exists today so that analyst cannot conduct that query without the prior approval of the FISA court,” a senior administration official said, referring to the metadata tracking program. “So that is a new reform, again, it will have to be authorized by the FISA court, but that is a very specific and tangible change to the program as it exists today.”
“There no longer is NSA approval of the determination to query the database. That is no longer an issue that is dealt with solely within the NSA,” the official continued. “They have to bring that to the FISA court.”