President Obama has recently signed legislation called the USA Freedom Act, which seeks to put limits on how much personal data on Americans the National Security Agency can collect en masse. But many view the new law as just another head fake by an administration that, truth be told, tasked the NSA with far wider surveillance powers than the Bush Administration.
As reported by Britain’s Guardian newspaper, the Obama White House has indicated that it intends to use a portion of the USA Freedom Act that bans bulk collection of U.S. phone records to actually restart the bulk collection of U.S. phone records.
U.S. officials told the paper that, in the days after Obama signed the legislation, the White House approached the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISA court, to revive the program, which has actually been deemed unconstitutional by a separate federal court, in the name of “transitioning” domestic spying activities to telecom firms that generate the “call detail records” to which the government wants access.
The Guardian further reported:
The unconventional and unexpected legal circumstance depends on a section of the USA Freedom Act, which Obama signed into law [June 2], that provides a six-month grace period to prepare the surveillance and legal bureaucracies for a world in which the National Security Agency is no longer the repository of bulk US phone metadata.
During that time, the act’s ban on bulk collection will not yet take effect.
Did the program really ever end?
Following revelations in 2013 by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealing that the NSA was collecting far more data on Americans than previously reported, Obama pledged to reform collection processes and procedures. But shortly after, the administration quietly dropped its proposed fixes and opted instead to continue tasking the NSA with wide collection assignments. One such dropped proposal included having a third party keep physical control over the telephone metadata collected by the spy agency.
In September 2014, the Justice Department, on the president’s instructions, won extensions on data collection from the FISA court, which is essentially a rubber stamp for the intelligence community under the guise of appearing to be a constitutional entity. That extension of the mass collection of data was the administration’s third, and it did not end there.
Within hours after the most controversial data collection provisions of the USA Patriot Act expired May 31, the NSA was reportedly forced to end its collection programs, but in reality, the programs likely were never curbed. And now, it appears that they won’t be at all, at least for the short term.
“No reason to restart bulk collection“
“We are taking the appropriate steps to obtain a court order reauthorizing the program. If such an order is granted, we’ll make an appropriate announcement at that time as we have with respect to past renewal applications,” Marc Raimondi, the Justice Department’s national security spokesman, told the Guardian recently.
Restarting the program – if, in fact, it had ended in the first place – has its critics, and some are coming from the president’s own party. One of the most vocal opponents of the NSA’s mass surveillance programs has been Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon. In recent days, he has warned the administration not to restart the program, especially since it has been deemed unconstitutional now by a federal appeals court.
“I see no reason for the executive branch to restart bulk collection, even for a few months, and I urge them not to attempt to do so. This illegal dragnet surveillance violated Americans’ rights for 14 years without making our country any safer, and the administration should leave it on the ash heap of history,” Wyden told the Guardian.
Citing the “substantial legal uncertainty looming over bulk collection,” Wyden aide Keith Chu also noted that the senator “would expect an amicus to be appointed on this.”
Reports have noted that, despite all of the NSA’s surveillance, not one terrorist plot has been foiled.
That, alone, should make Americans question what the real motivation is behind the government’s insatiable desire to spy on its citizens.