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.