WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama’s pledge to reform the way U.S. spy agencies access vast amounts of metadata on Americans’ telephone calls is facing increasing obstacles, U.S. officials said on Tuesday.
Obama promised to act after revelations by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden that the NSA had been collecting and storing the data, including numbers called and the time and length of calls but not their content.
The administration has said it no longer wants agencies such as the NSA to hold the data and last year quietly abandoned one alternative to have such data held by a non-governmental third party.
The remaining option is for telecommunications companies to gather and store the data themselves.
But according to two U.S. officials, the companies have privately told Congress they will not do so unless they are ordered to by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which needs new powers from Congress to issue such orders.
Last year, Congress failed to pass a bill to create such powers, and a Congressional aide said that no such legislation was now pending. The aide and an executive branch official said that prospects for passing such legislation before a June deadline were uncertain.
Robert Litt, legal adviser to the Director of National Intelligence, confirmed that the government’s current legal authority to handle telephone metadata expires on June 1.
“I’m hoping we will be able to get legislation passed. Everybody recognizes that there is utility to this,” he said in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday.
Former NSA and CIA Director Michael Hayden, however, said he saw “no administration plan for going ahead” with telephone metadata collection.
Asked what spy agencies would do if no new law was passed to authorize collection of the metadata, Litt said: “I don’t think we’re making those kinds of contingency plans at this point.”
Reporting By Mark Hosenball; Editing by David Storey and Ken Wills