The Obama administration on Monday announced the re-authorization of the National Security Agency’s bulk phone surveillance program, weeks after the Senate failed to pass a bill overhauling the government’s authority to collect virtually all Americans’ telephone records.
“Given that legislation has not yet been enacted, and given the importance of maintaining the capabilities of the telephony metadata program, the government has sought a 90-day reauthorization of the existing program, as modified by the changes the president directed in January,” the Justice Department and Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in a joint statement Monday.
Despite announcing a swath of privacy focused changes to the program roughly a year ago, president Obama has sought the renewal of the program every 90 days from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) since it was first revealed through classified leaks by Edward Snowden more than one year ago. (RELATED: NSA Bulk Phone Records Collection Program Expires Friday)
Those changes include requiring NSA to get a court order to search the database and limits the scope, or numbers surveilled, to those two connections — or “hops” — away from a target suspected of a terrorist connection.
Legally authorized under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, the so-called “215 program” allows NSA to collect, store and search metadata from Americans’ landline telephone records including numbers, call times, durations and more. Under a Senate bill known as the USA FREEDOM Act, the storage of such records would have been taken out of the government’s hands and left to phone companies. Agencies like NSA would then have had to obtain a court order to search the data with a narrowed focus for ties to terrorism.
Though a weaker version of the bill passed in the House earlier this year, Senate Republicans ultimately defeated the bill via filibuster last month, claiming that passing the bill would tie the government’s hands in combating growing terrorist threats such as ISIS in Iraq and Syria. (RELATED: Senate Sinks NSA Reform)
After the bill’s failure, activists and lawmakers called on the president to abandon the program himself ahead of its most-recent expiration last Friday.
“The president can end the NSA’s dragnet collection of Americans’ phone records once and for all by not seeking reauthorization of this program by the FISA Court, and once again, I urge him to do just that,” Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy — the FREEDOM Act’s chief sponsor in the upper chamber — said last Thursday.
“Since Snowden we’ve had these independent reports that have come out saying this nationwide call record program actually isn’t helping us to stop terrorism,” legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union Neema Singh Guliani told The Daily Caller Friday. “And despite that, they still continue to move forward with these applications collecting everyone’s records.”