WASHINGTON (AP) - The federal government is looking at ways to prevent anyone from spying on its own surveillance of Americans' phone records.
As the Obama administration considers shifting the collection of those records from the National Security Agency to requiring that they be stored at phone companies or elsewhere, it's quietly funding research to prevent phone company employees or eavesdroppers from seeing whom the U.S. is spying on, The Associated Press has learned.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has paid at least five research teams across the country to develop a system for high-volume, encrypted searches of electronic records kept outside the government's possession. The project is among several ideas that would allow the government to discontinue storing Americans' phone records, but still search them as needed.
President Barack Obama talks about National Security Agency surveillance in Washington on Jan. 17.
Under the research, U.S. data mining would be shielded by secret coding that could conceal identifying details from outsiders and even the owners of the targeted databases, according to public documents and interviews with researchers, corporate executives and government officials.
In other developments Monday:
Under pressure, the administration has provided only vague descriptions about changes it is considering to the NSA's collection and storage of Americans' phone records, which are presently kept in NSA databanks. To resolve legal and privacy concerns, President Barack Obama this month ordered the attorney general and senior intelligence officials to recommend changes by March 28 that would allow the U.S. to identify suspected terrorists' phone calls without the government holding the phone records itself.
One federal review panel urged Obama to order phone companies or an unspecified third party to store the records; another panel said collecting the phone records was illegal and urged Obama to abandon the program.
Internal documents describing the Security and Privacy Assurance Research project do not cite the NSA or its surveillance program. But if the project were successful, its encrypted search technology could pave the way for the government to shift storage of the records from NSA computers to either phone companies or a third-party organization.