The White House announced on Friday that the National Security Agency will cease slurping-up the phone records of millions of Americans at 11:59P.M. EST on Sunday. The surveillance practice will reportedly be replaced by more precise, targeted methods. The policy change is the result of the USA Freedom Act, which was enacted on June 2, 2015. The USA Freedom Act is designed to restrict the bulk collection of telecommunication meta-data on U.S. citizens but at the same time orders the birth of a new NSA program, one that, in theory, is designed to be more selective.
In 2013, Ed Snowden pulled back the proverbial curtain to reveal the government’s surveillance practices. Shortly afterward, politicians like Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, who actually introduced the Patriot Act in 2001, announced that the new powers granted to the intelligence community via the Patriot Act were being “missused” and were operating “far beyond” the original intent of the law. Hence, the idea for the USA FREEDOM Act was born. The bill was first introduced to Congress in October of 2013. Yet, when the bill was suddenly re-introduced to Congress in 2015, it was described by the bill’s sponsors as “a balanced approach”. Here is Ned Price from the National Security Council, “The act struck a reasonable compromise which allows us to continue to protect the country while implementing various reforms,” The new version of the bill would extend the Patriot Act through the end of 2019.
Critics claim the blanket surveillance of American’s communication content will continue under Section 702 of FISA and Executive Order 12333. Also, if one remembers, the NSA consistently asserted it ended its bulk meta-data program back in 2011. RT reporter Anya Parampil states, “there are reports the NSA bulk meta-data collection program was ended only because the NSA was collecting that data elsewhere”. We now know, thanks to the Snowden’s revelations, that American intelligence agencies utilize surveillance programs with names like XKeyscore, PRISM, DISHFIRE, and ECHELON. Take Xkeyscore for instance, which is a formerly secret NSA computer system for searching and analyzing global Internet data 365 days a year. Recent articles discovered that Xkeyscore employs user metrics to flag certain data, such as race, ethnicity, and geolocation.
All of the information culled from the meta-data collection program will not be immediately destroyed due to a request by the NSA to keep the material until the end of February 2016. The Obama Administration told Reuters the NSA requested limited access to it, not for analytical purposes but for “data integrity purposes.” This is despite the fact that a federal court found the NSA program unconstitutional. Recently, a presidential review committee concluded the surveillance programs spawned by the Patriot Act failed to lead to a single counter-terrorism breakthrough.
It appears to this author that this little announcement from our government friends is quite the red herring. To many people my parents age and beyond, hearing this story on the nightly news it will appear the alphabet agencies are rolling back Bush-era policies to make way for civil liberties. That couldn’t be farther from the case. The USA FREEDOM Act initially aimed to do that very thing but was compromised, bastardized, and de-fanged along the way like so many other congressional bills with benevolent intentions.