NSA Ends Bulk Phone Surveillance Program Revealed by Edward Snowden
The National Security Agency (NSA) has ended its highly controversial—and according to a federal appeals court, illegal—bulk collection of phone metadata from Americans’ phone calls.
Nearly seven months after the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City ruled that the NSA metadata collection program is illegal under the Patriot Act, the NSA has halted its mass surveillance program. Metadata is information containing phone numbers and call times, but not the content of conversations.
The global scope of the NSA program was revealed nearly two years ago by exiled whistleblower Edward Snowden, a former NSA agent who called mass government surveillance one of the “greatest human rights challenge of our time.” Beginning in 2013, Snowden revealed that the NSA was spying not only on phone calls but also on the social media profiles of an unknown number of users. The NSA also infiltrated popular online gaming and social media communities such as World of Warcraft and Second Life as part of its global surveillance program of Americans and foreign nationals, an effort which collected billions of phone and electronic records, including those of close allies and other world leaders, corporations and even the Pope.
One of the key documents leaked by Snowden was an order by the mostly-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) requiring telecommunications giant Verizon to hand over its metadata. This, and other Snowden revelations, sparked heated debate in Congress over how much NSA surveillance was acceptable. The result was the USA Freedom Act, a law enacted in June which proponents claim protects civil liberties and improves transparency while strengthening national security.
President Barack Obama has repeatedly defended NSA spying, even on Americans, as a vital tool in America’s long-running war against terrorism, although he has also acknowledged that the agency has engaged in “overcollection” of data. The Obama administration announced last Friday that the bulk metadata collection will be replaced by more tightly targeted surveillance, a transition that was cautiously hailed by Internet privacy advocates, tech companies and mostly progressive politicians who have long decried increasingly broad government surveillance in the wake of the September 11, 2001 Islamist terror attacks on the United States.
“This is a victory for everyone who believes in protecting both American security and Americans’ constitutional rights,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), an Internet freedom and staunch anti-surveillance advocate, said in an official statement. “Today the NSA is shutting down a mass surveillance program that needlessly violated the privacy of millions of Americans every day, without making our country any safer.”
“This program’s very existence was concealed from the American public for over a decade,” Wyden added. “Across two administrations, senior officials from US intelligence agencies and the Justice Department repeatedly made false and misleading statements that concealed the truth about what they were doing. These officials relied on a secret body of law to justify the mass surveillance of the American people.”
Supporters of the program had argued that the threat of terrorism justified increased government surveillance. But some, including presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), warned against surrendering freedom to gain safety.
“We don’t have to get rid of the constitutional protections of liberty in order to have security,” Paul said in the wake of the January Islamist terror attacks targeting the French satirical paper Charlie Hebdo and a Kosher supermarket in Paris.
While the NSA metadata collection program has ended, the White House said data collected over the past five years will be preserved for “data integrity purposes” until the end of next February.
Tagged Barack Obama, civil liberties, Edward Snowden, FISC, government surveillance, Internet privacy, national security agency, nsa, NSA ends bulk metadata collection, rand paul, Ron Wyden, USA Freedom Act