WASHINGTON -- Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, the top-ranking Democrat on intelligence issues in the House, is proposing to end the bulk collection of telephone data by the National Security Agency -- scaling back a program at the center of the controversy over the reach of government spying.
The proposal, which Ruppersberger described as a set of principles, would discontinue the government's collection of the phone data. Instead, intelligence agencies would have to obtain a court order to access similar data already retained by telephone providers, Ruppersberger said in an interview.
President Barack Obama has made a similar proposal -- the idea of having a third-party collect the data -- but Ruppersberger is the first leader of a congressional intelligence committee to formally propose an end to bulk collection of phone data by the government.
The Baltimore County lawmaker is the top-raking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
"Hopefully the public will understand that the government [wouldn't] have any of their information" from the phone data, said Ruppersberger, who has long been a supporter of the NSA, which is headquartered in his district. "They have anxiety and so hopefully this will take that away."
Ruppersberger said he is working with the Republican chairman of the committee Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan and has also consulted with the White House on the idea. Ruppersberger and Rogers run among the most bipartisan committees on Capitol Hill and the two work together closely, but Ruppersberger said the two are still negotiating the idea.
"I continue to work with Dutch and other colleagues in the House to craft a proposal that will address the concerns around bulk data storage, protect civil liberties, increase transparency and confidence in the government’s intelligence collection activities, and maintain a targeted capability for counterterrorism operations," Rogers said in a statement.
The proposal would require the government to obtain an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to secure phone records, which Ruppersberger said the providers already retain for at least 18 months.
The proposal is coming weeks before the Obama administration is expected to unveil its own ideas on how to handle the bulk collection of phone data.
Though many details of the proposal are still unclear, Michelle Richardson, who follows the issue for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the concept would be a "step in the right direction" but also noted the idea addresses "only a tiny slice of what's been revealed."