Trump Administration Urges Permanent Reauthorization Of NSA Surveillance Program
“The NSA has been vacuuming up hundreds of millions of Americans’ call records as part of a program that is hopelessly complex and lacks any discernible evidence of its value.”
The Trump administration urged Congress to reauthorize the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance program on Thursday – a program that has collected millions of Americans’ call records, prompting immediate backlash from civil liberties advocates.
“I write to express the support of the Intelligence Community (IC) and Administration for the permanent reauthorization of the provisions of the USA Freedom Act of 2015 that are currently set to expire in December,” wrote director of national intelligence Dan Coats in a letter first seen by the New York Times.
The letter was written on August 15, Coats’ last day in office, and was addressed to top members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senate Intelligence Committee.
“These provisions provide the [intelligence community] with key national security authorities, and we look forward to working with the Congress on their permanent reauthorization,” Coats added.
The law in question, the USA Freedom Act, is a modified version of the Patriot Act that was enacted in 2015. After intelligence contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the NSA’s mass data collection practices in 2013, some regulations were enforced to limit the state’s surveillance power, such as requiring court orders to access data from telecom companies.
Coats acknowledged serious flaws in the current program, such as technical limitations and high costs, but urged permanent reauthorization in the hope of future technological advancements.
Philip Ingram, a former British intelligence specialist, told Forbes’ cybersecurity journalist Kate O’Flaherty that civil liberties groups are inflating the dangers the Freedom Act’s reauthorization presents:
“The data collected and analyzed is metadata rather than message content data,” said Ingram. “They suggest the state is listening into everyone’s phone calls and reading everyone’s emails: This physically is not possible. The original legislation and program was rushed in as the U.S. thought further attacks after 9/11 were very likely to occur.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) disagrees with Ingram’s view, previously arguing that the unchecked security state has harassed members of marginalized communities, such as Muslims.
“Historically, authorities have used such overbroad authority to harass members of these communities,” said Free Press Action government relations director Sandra Fulton in a statement, “especially those who speak out when their rights are under threat.”
Critics note that if Coats’ vision of technological advancement coupled with permanent authorization is realized, the state would have unchecked surveillance capacity and the ability to abuse their powers with impunity.
“It’s long past time that this surveillance program was shuttered once and for all,” Patrick Toomey, senior attorney for the ACLU’s National Security Project, told the New York Times. “The NSA has been vacuuming up hundreds of millions of Americans’ call records as part of a program that is hopelessly complex and lacks any discernible evidence of its value. We should not leave such a sweeping, unaccountable power in the hands of our spy agencies.”