Earlier this year in a speech at the Department of Justice, I announced a transition that would end the section 215 bulk telephony metadata program as it previously existed and that we would establish a mechanism to preserve the capabilities we need without the Government holding this bulk metadata. I did so to give the public greater confidence that their privacy is appropriately protected, while maintaining the tools our intelligence and law enforcement agencies need to keep us safe.
In that January 17 speech, I ordered that a transition away from the prior program would proceed in two steps. In addition to directing immediate changes to the program, I also directed the intelligence community and the Attorney General to use this transition period to develop options for a new approach to match the capabilities and fill gaps that the section 215 program was designed to address without the Government holding this metadata. I instructed them to report back to me with options for alternative approaches before the program comes up for reauthorization on March 28th. As part of this process, we consulted with the Congress, the private sector, and privacy and civil liberties groups and developed a number of alternative approaches.
Having carefully considered the available options, I have decided that the best path forward is that the Government should not collect or hold this data in bulk. Instead, the data should remain at the telephone companies for the length of time it currently does today. The Government would obtain the data pursuant to individual orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) approving the use of specific numbers for such queries if a judge agrees based on national security concerns. Legislation will be needed to permit the Government to obtain this information with the speed and in the manner that will be required to make this approach workable.
I believe this approach will best ensure that we have the information we need to meet our intelligence needs while enhancing public confidence in the manner in which the information is collected and held. My team has been in touch with key Congressional leadership—including from the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees—and we are committed to working with them to see legislation passed as soon as possible. Given that this legislation will not be in place by March 28 and given the importance of maintaining this capability, I have directed the Department of Justice to seek a 90-day reauthorization of the existing program including the modifications I directed in January. I am confident that this approach can provide our intelligence and law enforcement professionals the information they need to keep us safe while addressing the legitimate privacy concerns that have been raised.