Late Friday, White House Announces That FISA Court Has Rubberstamped NSA Phone Record Collection, While Insisting It Wants Reform
from the uh-huh dept
As per its usual method of releasing news it would rather not talk about, on Friday evening the White House released the news that it had, once again, gotten a rubberstamp approval from the FISA Court for the NSA to collect in bulk basically all your phone records. As you probably know, this is just the latest in a long series of reapprovals by the FISA Court, which needs to reauthorize the program for limited periods of time each time the previous rubber stamp “expires.” What hasn’t made much sense in all of this is that President Obama announced a year ago that he wanted to end the bulk collection program, and as many people pointed out, there was an easy way to do so: just don’t ask the FISA Court to renew the authority. But, rather than do that, the administration just keeps on asking (and getting) approval.
The excuse given in the released statement is that the White House wants Congress to force its hand to stop asking:
As the White House said [link to WH statement], the Administration welcomes the opportunity to work with the new Congress to implement the changes the President has called for. 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 reauthorization of the existing program, as modified by the changes the President directed in January.
And, yes, the official announcement says “[link to WH statement]” — because, hey, they’re posting on Friday evening and might as well start the drinking early or something. It’s not like this stuff matters. The rest of that claim is similarly misleading. The metadata program has not been shown to be important in any way. In fact, basically everyone who has looked at it from outside the intelligence community, including two separate government review bodies has admitted that there aren’t any examples of the program actually being useful. So, it’s hard to see what’s so “important” about it.
But, really, this is all ridiculous. This is the same White House that is getting criticized all over the place for a variety of moves to take “executive action” where Congress is deadlocked. And, yet, here’s a situation where literally the White House has all the power in the world to stop the program it claims it wants stopped — and it says it needs Congress to act? That’s not even close to believable.
The one “noteworthy” aspect to this latest rubberstamping is the end date. The newly approved authority runs until June 1, 2015, which is the date at which Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act sunsets and would no longer be law. This program exists under Section 215, so the government can’t continue to collect those phone records after June 1, unless something happens. That “something” is the renewal of Section 215, and you better believe that the next few months are going to be a full on fight by the intelligence community and its supporters to spread as much fear as possible about why this program absolutely must be renewed. As you hear the scare stories, just remember that despite using this program for almost a decade there still isn’t a single example of it being useful.