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Phone Data Collection by United States Reauthorized

(CN) - The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court reauthorized the federal government's bulk collection of telephone metadata last month, according to a declassified order made public by the director of National Intelligence on Monday.

The order, signed on Dec. 4 by FISC Judge Raymond Dearie, found "reasonable grounds to believe that the tangible things sought are relevant to authorized investigations (other than threat assessments) being conducted by the FBI to protect against international terrorism."

Under the heavily redacted primary order, which expires on Feb. 27, the National Security Administration will receive daily productions of all call-detail records - known as telephony metadata - for communications both between the United States and abroad, and local telephone calls made in the United States.

While the order tasks the National Security Agency with storing the data, the government must request "by motion and on a case-by-case basis" permission from the court to use the data - satisfying the reasonable articulable suspicion standard "as 'seeds' to query the metadata to obtain contact chaining information, within two hops of an approved 'seed,' for purposes of obtaining foreign intelligence information," Dearie wrote.

But the director of the NSA may also authorize queries of the data in emergency situations without first petitioning the surveillance court. In those cases, however, the NSA must explain what constituted the emergency, the 16-page order states.

Any search of the metadata must be done manually, and any results can be shared outside the NSA only once the agency is certain that "the information identifying the U.S. person is in fact related to counterterrorism information and that it is necessary to understand the counterterrorism information or assess its importance," Dearie wrote.

The restrictions stem from changes made to the collection program last year, in an effort to appease civil-liberties groups.

Though the U.S.A. Freedom Act - passed by the House of Representatives this past May - require further specific-selection reforms, beyond the reasonable articulable suspicion standard required by the FISC, they remain missing from the authorization since the U.S. Senate declined to vote on the bill in its last session.

Collected records must be destroying within five years, and the NSA and Justice Department are tasked with oversight of the collection program, the order states.

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