Oversight Report Shows The NSA Did Not Delete All The Inadvertently-Collected Phone Records It Claimed It Had Deleted
from the crossing-the-sec-215-finish-line-in-a-blaze-of-failure dept
Ever since Ed Snowden doxed the NSA’s phone records collection, the agency has been coughing up documents showing its multiple collection programs have never not been abused since its was granted more power shortly after the 9/11 attacks.
The putative sacrificial lamb offered up to angry Congressional reps and dismayed citizens was the Section 215 program. Well, only a small part of it, actually. The NSA would continue to hoover up business records without a warrant, but it was having trouble working within the confines of modifications forced upon it by the USA Freedom Act.
Rather than use its considerable expertise to tackle the problem of over-collection, the NSA has apparently decided to abandon this collection altogether. It only took six years since the first Snowden leak, but it’s something. But the NSA’s uninterrupted string of abuses continued right up to its offer to shutter the program — something that won’t actually be official until Congress codifies the abandonment.
Thanks to yet another FOIA lawsuit, more bad news about the tail end of collection’s lifespan has been released. Charlie Savage of the New York Times reports the NSA’s claims about its purge of over-collected data were as hollow as any of the dozens of public statements it has offered in response to a steady stream of leaked documents.
Even after the National Security Agency announced last year that it had purged records about Americans because some were inappropriately collected, the agency inadvertently continued to retain some of the data, according to a newly declassified report.
The National Security Agency deleted the remaining data in October 2018 after its inspector general discovered it, the report said. The problem surfaced just as the agency was separately discovering that it was again collecting phone records it had no authority to gather, which came to light last month.
As Savage notes, this report [PDF] sheds some more light on the NSA’s decision to pull the plug on the collection. Perhaps the agency is simply tired of generating its own bad press with every new document forced out of its hands by public records requests.
That and the program is likely of limited usefulness, given more people communicate with messaging apps than phone calls at this point in time. On top of that, gathering third-party records without a warrant is no longer a given — not with the USA Freedom Act modifications and recent Supreme Court decisions.
Every recent development has made the program more of a pain in the ass for the NSA. To that I say, “Good!” But it should have been this way from the start. Engaging in domestic surveillance should be a last resort, not default operating mode. It took most of a decade to turn one domestic surveillance program into a burden for the surveillance agency. Everything the NSA does should be this burdensome. This is the only way it will start treating the powers it has with some respect.