The U.S. government may shut down the controversial phone surveillance program that was exposed by Edward J. Snowden in 2013.
The program annually collects hundreds of millions of telephone records such as calls and texts, including those belonging to American users.
But now the program, run by the National Security Agency, is considering cutting the program as it lacks operational value and hasn’t been used for the past six months.
Following 9/11, President George W. Bush’s administration started the phone surveillance program in an effort to catch al-Qaeda conspirators.
The NSA’s controversial phone surveillance program may be shut down in 2019 insiders say. The government’s surveillance of phone records was exposed in 2013 by intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden
That secret program was exposed by intelligence contractor Snowden in 2013, sparking public outrage over the government surveillance and exploitation of personal data.
After it was exposed, Congress ended the program, which was principally used to scan phone records for terror suspects. Then Congress replaced it with the U.S.A. Freedom Act of 2015, which will expire in 2019.
It is a softer version of the original program, but instead of giving the government free access, bulk phone records are obtained by phone companies, which could than be requested by the NSA.
Under the new program the number of phone records collected by the NSA was slashed from billions a day to a few hundred million a year, according to Engadget.
But according to Luke Murry, National Security Advisor to Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the NSA hasn’t used the USA Freedom Act, for the past six months and it may not be renewed when it expires later this year.
‘I’m actually not certain that the administration will want to start that back up,’ Murry said during the Lawfare podcast on Saturday.
He cited technical irregularities the NSA experienced last year as a reason behind the Act’s stalled use.
According to the New York Times, technical problems contaminated the agency’s database with information it had no authority to collect and officials were forced to delete hundreds of millions of call and text logs it had obtained as a result.
The matter of renewing the Act lies with the White House who will then pass it on to Congress to be renewed.
After Snowden exposed the phone surveillance program founded under the George W. Bush administration it was cut. Then Congress passed a similar program called the U.S.A. Freedom Act of 2015, which expires later in 2019
But as it hasn’t been used for the past six months thanks to alternative ways to track terror suspects and technical difficulties, it may be cut.
The program notably never thwarted a terror attack.
The call-detail records showed who was making phone calls, to where, and time stamps, but did not reveal the contents of those interactions. The intention was to unveil the social networks of terror groups, showing even if they made overseas calls.
In 2016 the program gathered 151million records, despite only obtaining a few court orders on 42 terror suspects. In 2017 the NSA collected 534million records, despite orders for just 40 targets.
The agency has declined to directly comment on the matter.
Back in January NSA spokesman Christopher Augustine told the Times that the agency was ‘carefully evaluationg all aspects’ of the Freedom Act program to determine it future.
Augustine noted that the White House has the final say on whether to request the Freedom Act be renews by Congress.
‘If there is an ongoing program, even if we all have doubts about it, that’s a very different political matter than if the program has actually stopped. Then the question becomes, “Why restart it?” rather than whether to turn it off,’ Daniel Schuman, the policy director of Demand Progress, an advocacy group that lobbies for government accountability, said to the Times.