A federal court has renewed a National Security Agency program allowing for the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records, highlighting a battle between the White House and Congress to reform the nature of mass surveillance in the country.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) gave a green light to the government to let the US telephone metadata collection program continue until June 1, when the provisions in the Patriot Act legalizing the practice will expire.
At that point, lawmakers will have the option of reauthorizing the law, allowing it to expire or replace it altogether.
Under the current program, the NSA can gather phone metadata, including call duration, location, and who called who and when, although the actual content of the phone conversations is off limits.
The government has thus far been required to reauthorize the program every 90 days. Friday’s renewal marks the fifth time the Obama administration has extend the program since promising to overhaul the United States domestic surveillance practices in January 2014.
In a statement released by White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, failure to reform the program has been placed at the feet of Congress.
“In January 2014, President Obama directed an end to the Section 215 bulk telephony metadata program as it then existed, and called for the establishment of a mechanism that would preserve the program’s essential capabilities without the government holding the bulk data,” the statement read.
“In March 2014, based on a recommendation from the Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General, the President proposed that the data should remain at the telephone companies rather than with the government, with a new legal mechanism that would allow the government to obtain data from these companies pursuant to individual court orders.”
The statement goes on to say that Congress has thus far failed to pass legislation to implement these reforms, known as the USA Freedom Act.