NSA quietly stops controversial mass phone surveillance program after public outcry and widespread technical issues
The big picture: According to the National Security Adviser to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the NSA has quietly stopped their phone record surveillance program. This program has been extremely controversial since it was famously made public by Edward Snowden but it appears that the Trump Administration has not been using it.
News of the program’s cancellation was just made public a few days ago when House aide Luke Murry discussed the issue in a podcast. Exact details of the program are still highly classified, but it appears that the Trump Administration has not used the program or its data for over half a year.
The program was known for sweeping surveillance of call records and other metadata for US citizens. It was originally started in 2001 as part of the USA PATRIOT Act where it collected and analyzed call records from all service providers. The goal was to establish patterns that might indicate communication among terrorists.
The Obama administration reduced the program’s scope to only individuals with FISA warrants, but there were still major issues. This included technical difficulties that resulted in the unintended surveillance of US citizens without FISA warrants. In 2017, the program had authorization to monitor just 40 targets, yet it collected 534 million phone records. As a result, the NSA announced that they were deleting all call records acquired since 2015 and fixing the issues.
That was back in June of 2018 and based on Murry’s statements, it looks like the program never really resumed after that. The program is set to expire in December and he believes the Trump administration will not renew it.
A spokesman for McCarthy’s office told The New York Times that he “was not speaking on behalf of administration policy or what Congress intends to do on this issue.”