As The NSA Declares Phone Record Program Dead, Trump Administration Asks For A Permanent Reauthorization

from the learn-how-to-read-a-room,-dudes dept

The NSA decided to abandon its phone data collection earlier this year, stating that it was having all sorts of technical issues collecting only the stuff it was asking for. In the good old days prior to the enactment of the USA Freedom Act, the NSA simply asked for everything. “Reasonable articulable suspicion” now guides the record collection — something that appears to be too tricky for the NSA to wrap its collective collection powers around.

It’s not all the NSA’s fault. The telcos now hold the records and only hand over what’s asked for when the NSA approaches them. Easier said than done, apparently, as over-collection continues and the NSA seems unable to prevent collecting records it’s not actually trying to correct.

But it’s also the NSA’s fault because it’s had plenty of time to get used to the new rules and develop better practices/software to sort through collected data. Of course, the NSA has also hinted the program is of limited usefulness and has seemed willing to give it up for years now, especially if the token sacrifice saves other, far more intrusive programs from the Congressional chopping block.

Is it really shut down, though? That’s been a tough question to answer. The NSA did recommend the program be shut down and claims it’s just gathering dust at the moment, but there’s been nothing definitive delivered to its oversight. Until now. Charlie Savage reports for the New York Times that there’s finally official confirmation of the program’s (possibly temporary) demise. Exiting Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats’ unclassified letter makes it clear the NSA has shut down the program indefinitely.

“The National Security Agency has suspended the call detail records program that uses this authority and deleted the call detail records acquired under this authority,” Mr. Coats wrote. “This decision was made after balancing the program’s relative intelligence value, associated costs, and compliance and data integrity concerns caused by the unique complexities of using these company-generated business records for intelligence purposes.”

This isn’t really good news, though. The current administration has other ideas for the program — and a few other collection authorities — that would excuse them permanently from periodic review.

In a letter to Congress delivered on Thursday and obtained by The New York Times, the administration urged lawmakers to make permanent the legal authority for the National Security Agency to gain access to logs of Americans’ domestic communications, the USA Freedom Act.

Not sure if Dan Coats is just a team player or he actually believes the NSA can power through its technical struggles and finally get this phone record thing nailed down. Savage reports Dan Coats is on board with plans to permanently reauthorize the program under the theory that technical advances will make this program useful again at some undetermined point in the future.

In addition to the phone record collection, the administration also was a permanent reauthorization of other business record collections, authority to wiretap “lone wolf” suspected terrorists with no ties to foreign powers, and its infamous roving wiretaps that follow the suspects, rather than their phones.

The NSA and its programs are barely subject to oversight as it is. This would further insulate four surveillance programs — one wholly domestic — from even a rote appraisal of their use and abuse. And for all the talk about how much trouble the phone record collection is, the outgoing Intelligence Director thinks it’s wise to just leave it idling in the driveway until the next time the NSA wants to take it out for a spin.

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Comments on “As The NSA Declares Phone Record Program Dead, Trump Administration Asks For A Permanent Reauthorization”

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17 Comments
David says:

You know what I wonder?

I am irritated about the way to deal with conveniently declared national emergencies experts find themselves in disagreement with. Let’s assume, for argument’s sake, that the barn genius is not reelected and declares a national emergency in order to avoid handing power to the Democrats, the enemies of a Great America. Now let’s assume that House and Senate gather a majority that says "not so" which I consider likely. This is vetoed by the not outgoing president.

Will House and Senate manage to garner the required 2/3 majority to reject that veto? Frankly, I have my doubts given how willing the Republican Party has been to sacrifice everything it stands for just in order to keep their candidate in rule.

Even then, the president will be the commander of the army.

Anonymous Coward says:

and some people think this is the way of a good, caring president? wise up, for goodness sake! all his aims are meant to spy on every one of us at all times! and all for the benefit of business and the security forces! remember, this is what was fought against in WWII! this is what happens in countries that are NOT what we are supposed to be, democratic countries that believe in and uphold the rights of Freedom, Freedom of Speech and Privacy, among others! not the sort of thing that happens in Russia, N.Korea, China, Iran etc, countries that we condemn for doing it! we are now bordering on the same thing!

Gorshkov (profile) says:

I was in intelligence in the 70s/80s during the "good old days" of the cold war, and I think I’ve got a perspective on this that pretty well anybody else in the intelligence community should have ……. which makes this whole thing even more confusing.

The problem, generally speaking, is not so much the lack of information, but a surplus of information. One of the hardest parts of analysis is separating the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.

Computer automation allows us to handle much, much more data than we did before. Unfortunately, the amount of data has increased even faster (by orders of magnitude) than our ability to process it.

Bottom line is this: When you have to work so hard to find a needle in a haystack, giving yourself an even bigger haystack to deal with is NOT the most productive of moves.

tom (profile) says:

I find it hilarious that folks are worried about the NSA and saying nothing about the phone company’s data collections. From TFA, the NSA isn’t collecting data anymore,(at least that is being admitted), they are/were asking for subsets of the data the phone companies have on every phone user. We already know the phone companies are using said data themselves and selling it to anyone willing to pay the asking price. Time to quit worrying about government agency data collection and start worrying about private corporation data collection.

ECA (profile) says:

Once 911 started..

Everything went into affect with some REAL wide ideas, that Most of which had already been tried and Died.
Lets look at the backbone that was designed for Phone systems and minor internet access, Before 1995..
How do you monitor Every one and every thing..CANT.
You throw a net out there, and SAMPLE the data and Miss allot of fish, but also Catch a few.
!995 comes around and the internet Goes BOOM and the Backbone now has Cellphones and the Whole internet as well as Phone, and TV… and 1000 internet Games..(and increasing)..
The Agencies find reasons to Build new facilities and Bigger abilities to Scan and make a Better net. SAME problem, Time 100,000. We went for a system that never Got more then 6% usage to one with 80-90% usage.. So we fixed the backbone.
and probably inserted locations on the NET to Scan and Check data. What Data? How to scan Game Chats, and Emails, Private chats, This data, that Data, and so forth…
OVERWHELMING..

Math is fun and interesting and I keep seeing the numbers NOT adding up.
Take 1000 people and figure out how many police, and city workers you need. And then change the population by 10,100,1000 times.. Would you increase the need of the police and City workers?? Or CUT jobs and wages to save money? the numbers SHOULD become Comparable.
But Even the Corps have cut back and forced more work and Less jobs onto the nation. Not having 100 locations in a Metro area you create 1 BIG store 10-20 miles away. And you over work the employees. With a turn over rate of 400% and higher.
WOW, whats do you create? ALLOT of unemployed people with little to do but listen to FOX NEWS/OPINIONS..

Edmund_D (profile) says:

eh…I think this could be another Poindexter move. Can’t do it publicly via government project, so take it black. Or just use England’s Echelon system, or was it Carnivore. Regardless, can’t have it funded by Congress, need it to go black or let FiveEyes scoop it up. not a good thing for Trump to want to keep it funded. Snowden showed us its all captured anyway, even when they (Clapper) say it isn’t.

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