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US President Obama considering ending mass collection of phone-call data

US President Barack Obama may be set to introduce changes to curb the NSA’s ability to collect mass data on phone calls. Revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden were met with sharp criticism among US allies.

Reports in two leading US newspapers on Tuesday indicated that President Obama was set to unveil proposals designed to impose curbs on how the National Security Agency (NSA) collects phone-call data.

The "NSA would end its systematic collection of data about Americans' calling habits," The New York Times reported in its online edition, citing unnamed senior officials in the Obama administration.

"The records would stay in the hands of phone companies, which would not be required to retain the data for any longer than they normally would. And the NSA could obtain specific records only with permission from a judge, using a new kind of court order," the paper added.

The report said Obama had instructed Justice Department and intelligence officials months ago to draw up the plan and have it ready for presentation by this coming Friday.

However, according to the report, while the administration appears to be clear on its intent, it is expected to be some time before the changes are actually implemented. The Times report said Obama's administration planned to apply to get the current bulk-phone-record surveillance program extended for another 90 days.

House Intelligence Committee bill

The Washington Post, meanwhile, reported that leaders of the House Intelligence Committee from both Obama's Democrats and the Republicans had drafted a bill designed to end the mass collection of Americans' phone call data, while at the same time retaining the NSA's ability to gain information about alleged spies or terrorists.

"We believe this can be the solution for those of us who want to preserve important national security capabilities while heeding the legitimate concerns of many that the collection of bulk telephone metadata has a potential for abuse," lawmaker Mike Rogers, a defender of the NSA's current powers told the paper.

Information about the NSA's mass surveillance activities brought to light by former subcontractor Edward Snowden last year, has sparked serious concerns about the practice among some of Washington's closest allies, including Germany.

Among those that strained relations between Washington and Berlin, was a revelation that the NSA had tapped into Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone.

US authorities want to put Snowden on trial on a series of charges, however he is currently out of reach in Russia, where he has been granted temporary asylum.

pfd/kms (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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