NSA granted extension to collect phone data of U.S. citizens

The US National Security Agency (NSA) has been reauthorized to collect the bulk phone records of people in the country for another 90 days, while the lawmakers are still working towards a legislation that would block the agency from doing so in future.

“Given that legislation has not yet been enacted, and given the importance of maintaining the capabilities of the Section 215 telephony metadata program, the government has sought a 90-day re-authorization of the existing program, as modified by the changes the President announced earlier this year,” according to a by Department of Justice and Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) has approved the government’s application seeking reauthorization of the program, the statement confirmed.

“in light of the significant and continuing public interest in the telephony metadata collection program, the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, has declassified the fact that the government’s application to renew the program was approved yesterday by the FISC,” read public statement dated 20 June, 2014.

It also mentioned that,

“The order issued yesterday expires on September 12, 2014.”

Edward Snowden, the whistleblower on the US intelligence programs, had revealed about the bulk telephony metadata collection last June through the leaked classified documents.

The revelations caused a national uproar and the program faced severe criticism from civil libertarians and humanitarian agencies citing gross neglect and intrusion to their privacy, a right guaranteed by the American constitution.

Reacting to the national outrage, President Obama proposed changes to the intelligence program, which necessitated that

“absent a true emergency, the telephony metadata can only be queried after a judicial finding that there is a reasonable, articulable suspicion that the selection term is associated with an approved international terrorist organization.”

Additionally, the Obama administration ordered the intelligence services to pursue two-hops away phone calls rather than the previous three hops (a number can be pursued if it is two steps away from a number associated with a terrorist group).

However, he did say that the telephone data will remain with the telephone companies, which can be obtained by the government through a court order and a legislation to that effect will be passed soon.

Known as the US Freedom Act and passed in May in the House of Representatives, the draft legislation has many loopholes and could ultimately empower NSA with continued access to phone data, according to various civil rights groups.

A specific concern to the new act is redefining the ‘specific selection term,’ from “a term used to uniquely describe a person, entity, or account,” to “a discrete term, such as a term specifically identifying a person, entity, account, address, or device.”

Kevin Bankston, Policy Director of the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, feels the borader definition could lead to information abuse and the authorities may use it to collect physical address of an email provider or financial institution, or IP address of a web osting service.

 


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