The controversial phone surveillance program exposed by intelligence contractor Edward Snowden in 2013 faces termination as lawmakers from both parties agree that its privacy concerns outweigh any potential value to national security.
The program, which was launched in secret after 9/11, gathered information on domestic phone calls and text messages to help the government in terrorism investigations.
The program is widely considered a violation of Americans’ right to privacy.
In 2015, Congress passed the USA Freedom Act to limit the scope of the call detail records program. The NSA was still able to collect metadata on calls and texts, but it had to do so through the telephone companies.
In 2018, facing insurmountable legal and technical challenges (the NSA couldn’t determine which records it had obtained legally), the NSA shut down the program and deleted all records obtained since 2015.
Now, with the Freedom Act’s provisions set to expire Dec. 15th, Congress must decide whether the NSA should retain the authority to revive the program in the future.
“After speaking with intelligence and law-enforcement officials, it’s become clear that changes to the program under the USA Freedom Act have significantly weakened its usefulness,” said Senator Richard Burr (R-NC).
“It’s really not clear to me why a program with limited intelligence value and clear compliance problems should be reauthorized,” added Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). “And unless there is good reason to believe that it should, I do not believe we should reauthorize it.”
NSA official Susan Morgan told lawmakers the agency would prefer the program’s status remain “expired” rather than “terminated” in case future technological advances warrant the program’s revival, but when asked could not confirm if the program had ever helped the NSA catch a terrorist or foil a plot.
Editor’s note: Finally Congress stumbles in the right direction and rescinds some of the permissions for NSA to spy on Americans. It is not complete but a positive step.