Above Photo: An activist protests NSA surveillance in Washington DC, 2014 © AFP / Win McNamee
The National Security Agency (NSA) has reportedly asked the White House to drop its phone surveillance program that gathers information on millions of Americans’ calls and texts, revealed by Edward Snowden in 2013.
According to a Wall Street Journal report published on Wednesday, agency insiders say the logistical and legal headaches of keeping the program operational outweigh its intelligence benefits.
“The candle is not worth the flame,” one agency source told the Journal.
The phone snooping program began in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, and operated secretly until NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed its existence to the public in 2013. Under the program, the NSA warrantlessly collected the ‘metadata’ of billions of phone calls and text messages per day, under the auspices of tracking links between terrorism suspects.Despite the outcry that followed Snowden’s revelations, the program continued, albeit in limited form since the passing of the USA Freedom Act in 2015. Since the act’s passing, the NSA has been pared back to collecting a few hundred million records per year, which are stored by telecommunication companies.
Snowden himself greeted the news in snarky fashion. “First they laugh at you, then they fight you, then… they admit you were right all along and maybe shouldn’t have been violating everyone’s rights in the first place?” he tweeted.
First they laugh at you, then they fight you, then… they admit you were right all along and maybe shouldn’t have been violating everyone’s rights in the first place? https://t.co/Q0acQCEf6s
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) April 25, 2019
Although the NSA has long argued that gobbling up the country’s phone records is of vital national security importance, a Congressional national security adviser stated last month that the agency hasn’t even used its metadata collection system for the last six months, due to technical problems.
Ultimately, the White House will decide whether to keep the program alive.
Warrantless phone data harvesting was not the only NSA surveillance program revealed by Snowden in 2013. The whistleblower also revealed the existence of PRISM, a program under which the agency collects internet communications data from various US companies, including Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and Apple.
As much of the world’s internet communications flow through companies based in the United States, PRISM gives the NSA worldwide reach. As such, documents leaked by Snowden state that PRISM is “the number one source of raw intelligence used for NSA analytic reports.”
Little is known about the current status of the program, except that it was renewed by Congress last January, with little debate and bipartisan support.