Almost ten months ago, the Washington Post and the Guardian unveiled the existence of the National Security Agency's bulk phonecall metadata collection program, and now, says the New York Times, the Obama administration has outlined a plan that would stop the agency's mass collection of Americans' phone records. The administration's plan hasn't even been fully detailed, let alone approved. But the core is this, via the Times:
[T]he N.S.A. would end its systematic collection of data about Americans’ calling habits. The bulk 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 N.S.A. could obtain specific records only with permission from a judge, using a new kind of court order.
That's essentially all anyone knows yet (although there's plenty of coverage of this news). As of right now (and for at least the next three months), the NSA collects call information and stores it for five years. Under the new plan, the data would stay, as it usually does, with the phone companies, who already store it anyway, for around 18 months. If the NSA wants to access the data, the agency will need approval from the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court.
The Obama administration's plan has to pass through Congress, and other, competing plans have also been floated by legislators. Congress' ideas range from killing the program entirely to beefing it up, says the Times.
The bulk phone metadata collection program was not the only practice unveiled by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and journalists over the past nine months. In the original information dump in June 2013, it was revealed that the NSA's programs also absorbed “audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs” carried by companies such as “Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple.”