The National Security Agency surveillance program that was exposed by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden quietly shut down, The New York Times reports.
The program, which used a system to analyze metadata of Americans’ domestic calls and texts, has not been used for months and the Trump administration may not ask Congress to renew it when it expires at the end of the year, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy’s national security adviser Luke Murry told Lawfare.
The program was created by the Bush administration after the 9/11 attacks to identify associates of known terror suspects. It was unknown to Americans until Snowden revealed the program’s existence in 2013.
Congress put an end to the program created through executive power by Bush and replaced it with the USA Freedom Act in 2015, which allowed the government to request phone records from companies and expires at the end of the year.
Murry told Lawfare that the Trump administration “hasn’t actually been using it for the past six months.”
“I’m actually not certain that the administration will want to start that back up,” Murry said.
Murry’s revelation may end program for good:
Daniel Schuman, the policy director of the civil liberties advocacy group Demand Progress, told The Times that the revelation the program has not been used for six months “changes the entire landscape of the debate.”
Schuman said that since “the sky hasn’t fallen” since the program stopped being used, there is no way to claim it is vital to security.
“If there is an ongoing program, even if we all have doubts about it, that’s a very different political matter than if the program has actually stopped,” Schuman said. “Then the question becomes, ‘Why restart it?’ rather than whether to turn it off.”
NSA program collected hundreds of millions of phone records:
The Bush administration first started bulk collection of Americans’ phone call logs after the 9/11 attacks. Phone companies like AT&T, Verizon, and MCI turned over records to the NSA after an order by the president and in 2006 the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court began to issue orders requiring the companies to turn those records over, citing the Patriot Act.
After Snowden revealed the existence of the program in 2013, the Obama administration ended the program but was able to preserve the system used in the Freedom Act, which left bulk records in the hands of the phone companies instead of the government but allowed the NSA to retrieve logs if they got a judge’s order.
“Yet the scale of collection remained huge: The program gathered 151 million records in 2016, despite obtaining court orders to use the system on only 42 terrorism suspects in 2016, along with a few left over from late 2015. In 2017, it obtained orders for 40 targets and collected 534 million records,” The New York Times reported.
The NSA had to delete its entire database last year because technical issues caused it to collect records it had no authority to collect.