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A new, more limited system for monitoring Americans’ phone calls for signs of terrorist intent is so slow and cumbersome that the U.S. National Security Agency will likely never use it, a senior Senate Republican said.
Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, opposed the new system when it was mandated earlier this year. He said this week he was not concerned by how the NSA will transition to it because it will probably not be used.
The NSA, which spies on electronic communications worldwide, is weeks away from ending its former indiscriminate vacuuming of information about Americans’ phone calls, or metadata, and replacing it with a more targeted system.
Burr made his comments as lawmakers and Obama administration officials continue to disagree about the new approach to call monitoring, set to take effect on Nov. 29 under a law that overhauled domestic surveillance practices. It will replace a system exposed publicly more than two years ago by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and denounced by civil liberties advocates as overly intrusive.
The new system cannot be relied upon for national security purposes, Burr said in an interview on Tuesday.
“I’m not concerned with the rollout (of the new system) because I’m resigned to the fact that metadata will never be used again,” added Burr, a Republican security hawk.
He said he would have preferred to let the NSA continue its data grabs unfettered, adding that discontinuing the metadata program represents “a loss in the arsenal we have to identify terrorists.”
Asked about Burr’s comments, White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price replied that the USA Freedom Act, enacted in June, “struck a reasonable compromise which allows us to continue to protect the country while implementing various reforms.”