Unless Congress extends the law authorizing the National Security Agency to snoop on the cell phone metadata of American citizens, the NSA will stop spying and cataloging your digital footprint in June, lamented intelligence officials yesterday.
Naturally, this is a “critical national security tool” according to President Obama’s National Security Council.
The NSA’s snooping dragnet was exposed by controversial figure Edward Snowden almost two years ago. Snowden revealed that the NSA is acquiring information from telecoms that includes who you talk to, how long you talk to them, what time you talk to them and your location when you talk to them … among other things. They do not, as of yet, acquire the contents of your calls which requires a quick rubber stamp visit to a “court.”
Efforts to extend the law have proved “fruitless,” Reuters described.
According to a spokesman, the Senate Intelligence Committee is currently working on legislation. On the other side of things, the House is working on a “separate measure to enhance information sharing between companies and intelligence agencies” said an aide, and is unlikely to move on the NSA authority until they nail down the information-sharing measure.
The snooping issue is controversial among lawmakers and doesn’t break down exactly along partisan lines. On the one hand, we have civil liberties crushing Republicans like Rep. Pete King and on the other there are folks like GOP Senator Rand Paul, who isn’t a fan of the surveillance. Even Democrats are divided, with former Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein supporting the snooping while others like Senator Ron Wyden are concerned about the government panopticon.
Ned Price, who is the spokesman for the National Security Council, told Reuters that the administration will stop the snooping if Congress does not reauthorize the bill.
Some legal experts have suggested that even if Congress does not extend the law the administration might be able to convince the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to authorize collection under other authorities.
Price made clear the administration does not intend to do so. The administration is encouraging Congress to enact legislation in the coming weeks that would allow collection to continue.
“If Section 215 (of the law which covers the collection) sunsets, we will not continue the bulk telephony metadata program,” he said.
“Allowing Section 215 to sunset would result in the loss, going forward, of a critical national security tool that is used in a variety of additional contexts that do not involve the collection of bulk data.”
A review panel of the snooping practices found that no “breakthroughs” in counter-terrorism were found.