What President Obama's Order to the NSA Means for You

Jan 18, 2014 10:40 AM EST | Jordan Ecarma


The National Security Agency has the potential to know a lot about you--emails, phone calls, text messages and more. But in a speech at the Justice Department on Friday, President Obama ordered steps to narrow government reach, The Washington Post reported.

Obama said the NSA should stop keeping records of domestic phone calls, a surveillance method revealed when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents last year. But lawmakers are divided on what the new system should be.

What do the ordered changes mean for your personal communication? The main shift that would affect most Americans is that the government will have limited access to the time and location of phone calls.

The NSA has been freely collecting "metadata" for an undisclosed amount of time. Metadata is the information collected by wireless carriers; it can include phone numbers, the time and length of calls and the location of the person making the call and the person receiving it, according to CNN.

Metadata also contains which cellular towers were used to send the call and what type of phone was used, information that can say a good deal about a caller. The government has been collecting and storing these records.

While Obama hasn't said the NSA should completely stop collecting metadata, he has ordered a more limited scope. The government will need an order from a judge to look into metadata records, and information from fewer calls will be collected.

Lawmakers don't yet have a plan to overhaul the system, but the president said the government will stop collecting metadata eventually.

"Ending this dragnet collection will go a long way toward restoring Americans' constitutional rights and rebuilding the public's trust," Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) said in a joint statement as quoted by The Washington Post. "Make no mistake, this is a major milestone in our longstanding efforts to reform the National Security Agency's bulk collection program."

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