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The Obama administration said on Friday that it would go ahead with the scheduled closure of the National Security Agency’s bulk phone records collection program. The USA Freedom Act, which passed in early June, outlined this weekend’s deadline.
The NSA’s collection of vast amounts of metadata pertaining to calls made by users of telecommunications companies like AT&T and Verizon was unknown to the general public until June 2013, when The Guardian leaked its first document from former security contractor Edward Snowden.
Now, instead of the NSA keeping the metadata onsite, the organization will theoretically have to obtain a warrant from the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to request metadata pertaining to a person or a group from a telecom company.
Privacy advocates largely pulled their support for this reform effort before the USA Freedom Act was passed, saying that the language in the bill was too vague and noting that no “probable cause” standard was required to be granted a warrant through FISC.
The Office of the Director of National intelligence (ODNI) released a press statement on Friday explaining that going forward the NSA need only show FISC that it intends to request metadata based on “a ‘specific selection term’—a term that specifically identifies a person, account, address, or personal device in a way that limits the scope of information sought to the greatest extent reasonably practicable.”
The ODNI also noted that the existing call database will be kept “until civil litigation regarding the program is resolved,” although the office said that the metadata will not be used for any surveillance purposes.
Earlier this month, some Republican senators tried to delay the end of the metadata collection program, citing the November 13 attacks in Paris. They failed to get the necessary support to move forward with that plan.