Halt to Records Collection Probably Temporary As Senate Expected to Pass Reform Measure
By Frank Gormlie / OB Rag
As of today – June 1st – the National Security Agency is no longer legally allowed to collect Americans’ phone records in bulk. The NSA massive collection of telephone records ended at 11:59 p.m. EDT Sunday, right after the Senate failed to pass a measure to extend the controversial program, part of the Patriot Act.
And Americans can thank Edward Snowden for it. Snowden was the one who heroically revealed the massive surveillance program to the American public and is now sitting in Russia for his punishment.
The halt to the phone coverage, however, is probably only temporary, as the Senate is expected to okay a House-passed reform bill targeting the NSA’s surveillance program. Even if it passed, it would still take a couple of days for it to start up. Late Sunday night, the Senate voted 77-17 to move the House bill forward but Sen. Rand Paul was able to delay final approval of the bill at least until Tuesday, pundits and media observers agree.
So, what does all this mean? From the LA Times:
What’s the NSA doing now?
The NSA can no longer collect and store records from Americans’ phone calls. The spy agency has locked down access to the billions of phone records it has archived on government servers. The NSA won’t delete the so-called metadata, however, but has installed monitoring software designed to set off alarms if government officials try to access the data. The records include the numbers called from each phone and the length of each call, but not the conversations.
How would the new program work?
If the House bill becomes law, the NSA would be allowed to ask phone companies for call data on U.S. phones that may be linked to a known terrorist or terrorist group. Those requests would be vetted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which operates in secret. The NSA would no longer be able to vacuum up the phone records in bulk and would have to rely on phone companies to store the toll records themselves. Most companies keep the toll records for 18 months.
When would that start?
The NSA would be given six months to transition to the new method of collecting phone records. In the meantime, the NSA would be allowed to temporarily restart its bulk collection program until the new method is up and running. Intelligence officials said that it would take them several days to restart bulk collection once the president signs the bill into law. The Senate could vote on the bill, called the USA Freedom Act, as soon as Tuesday.
There was certainly praise for what came down, even if temporary, as NSA critics say this all will force a debate in Congress – for the first time – over the NSA’ s controversial programs. One longtime critic is Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who issued a statement Sunday night, reports HuffPO:
“Congress now has the opportunity to build on this victory by making meaningful and lasting reforms to U.S. surveillance laws.
After Republican leaders stalled for months in a failed attempt to rerun their old playbook for extending mass surveillance, they now have no excuse for not allowing a full debate on the USA Freedom Act as soon as possible.
In my view this is the best way to bring new transparency and reforms to U.S. surveillance programs and to bring certainty to our intelligence agencies.”
Even though we have Snowden to thank for even getting this far, the eyes of government and the national media were not on him, but were on Sen. Rand Paul. Paul, by running down the procedural clock, succeeded in forcing the phone data collection provisions of the Patriot Act to expire, and caused the Senate into a stalemate on the House-passed USA Freedom Act. Slate
But while Paul stalled the Senate and may have caused a debate, it is still Snowden who got us here. Many don’t like him or appreciate what he did. But, as it’s been pointed out, the young, the millennials do. And as the head of the ACLU recently stated:.
When millennials translate their political ideals into public policy, the future will be more in the spirit of 1776 than 1984, and Snowden will assume his place in American history as whistleblower and patriot. The establishment might not like him now, but one day, it will erect a monument honoring him.
In the meantime, perhaps enough of us will come to appreciate what he did and enable him to return to this country without fear of prosecution or jail.