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    Op-Ed at Los Angeles Times: NSA’s metadata program: End it, don’t mend it

    The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board has published an op-ed calling for the end of the National Security Agency’s program that collects telephone metadata in bulk, which affects the privacy on individual Americans:

    Five months after Americans learned that information about their telephone calls was being indiscriminately scooped up by the National Security AgencyCongress seems poised to place limits on the bulk collection of telephone “metadata” — information about the source, destination and duration of telephone calls but not their contents. That’s a positive development.

    But there is a world of difference between the legislation approved by the Senate Intelligence Committee, which would make only minor improvements in the program, and a superior proposal by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) that would bring the collection of phone records into compliance with the letter and the spirit of the 4th Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.

    Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the head of the Intelligence Committee, rightly says that the committee’s bill “increases privacy protections and public transparency” in the phone records program. But the protections are minimal, and in return for the minor changes, Congress would give its explicit approval for the wholesale acquisition of metadata by the government.

    By contrast, the Leahy-Sensenbrenner bill would allow the government to acquire phone data only as part of an investigation tied to a specific suspected terrorist or foreign agent or an individual in contact with him. Bulk collection would end. […]

    It’s easy, amid the legal and technical complexities, to lose sight of the question at the heart of this debate: whether the government should be able, without a showing of probable cause of a connection to terrorism, to obtain and store information that can often provide as wide a window on the private lives of Americans as the actual contents of phone calls. […]

    But the mere possession of such information by the government is unsettling, and there is no guarantee that some employees with access to private information won’t betray their trust.

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