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The NSA is no longer using its bulk metadata program to get phone information on everyday Americans. The program shut down earlier this morning as part of the USA Freedom Act which Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed over the summer. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden is pretty pleased the program’s over and done with.
Not everyone agrees the USA Freedom Act went far enough. Michigan Congressman Justin Amash wrote on Facebook in May how the law instead requires phone companies to keep the data and the government can ask for certain terms.
Rand Paul expressed similar concerns when he took to the Senate floor in May for a talk-a-thon which briefly let the PATRIOT Act expire. His annoyance was over a decision by Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to not allow any amendments to the bill, which may have strengthened privacy. Paul has a point because there is concern the government could just plug in “Verizon” or “AT&T” into the search terms and collect data there. There seems to be a bit of a discrepancy on the issue, with Reason magazine suggesting that isn’t the case. The USA Freedom Act text itself seems vague, but obviously satisfied enough in the federal government to get it made law. But this doesn’t mean everything is kosher when it comes to keeping the government out of private records. There’s been a pretty big push from certain hawks in the GOP to re-activate the program, based on the Paris terror attacks.
Burr is ignoring the fact the NSA can still get information from phone companies if they suspect someone is involved in terrorism. He’s also ignoring the fact authorities can still make mistakes. Belgian police had Salah Abdeslam under surveillance, and he was still able to get into Paris for the attacks. The Russians warned the FBI about the Tsarnaev duo and they were still able to carry out the Boston bombing. Burr’s suggestion the USA Freedom Act tosses out the baby with the bathwater is highly suspect, and unfortunately what happens when fear starts reigning in politics. There’s no proof the NSA spying program has successfully stopped any terrorist attack, even though its supporters have liked to float the “54 terrorist attacks thwarted” number. The problem is NSA Director General Keith Alexander had to walk back that claim in 2013.