They Can (Still) Hear You
The Obama administration ensured Monday that the NSA can continue collecting Americans’ phone records for another quarter.
The Senate’s refusal to move forward on the USA Freedom Act, which couldn’t overcome a Republican filibuster last month, means bulk collection of Americans’ phone records will continue for at least another 90 days, the Obama administration announced Monday.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court) approved the Justice Department’s request for a 90-day extension of the National Security Agency’s surveillance program, which garnered international attention and sparked outrage when it was exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden last year.
The USA Freedom Act would have halted the NSA’s legal authority to collect some data, including phone numbers and timestamps. Now the agency can continue doing so through Feb. 27.
It would also have reauthorized the USA Patriot Act’s “lone-wolf provision,” which allows surveillance of those involved in terrorism, and a roving-wiretap provision, which warrants continuous phone surveillance.
President Barack Obama promised to reform the controversial spying system after the Snowden leaks, but has repeatedly chosen to leave the issue in the hands of a notoriously gridlocked Congress rather than taking executive action on it, as he recently did with immigration. Monday’s renewal of the widely denounced program is the fourth in less than a year. The administration was also granted extensions in March, June, and September.
Republicans routinely criticize Obama for bypassing Congress and “overreaching” with executive actions, which is one reason he may be hesitant to take unilaterally act to rein in the NSA’s spying program.
But some members of his own party, including the co-author of the USA Freedom Act, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, (D-Vt.), have criticized Obama for inaction on the matter. “The president can end the NSA’s dragnet collection of Americans’ phone records once and for all by not seeking reauthorization of this program by the FISA Court, and once again, I urge him to do just that,” Leahy stated last week.
Although the bill written by Leahy and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) passed the House last summer, it was shot down by Senate Republicans, many of whom said in the era of the Islamic State that revising or curbing certain intelligence-gathering methods could risk Americans’ safety. The new, Republican-led Congress will have to introduce new legislation or otherwise take action by September, when the 2001 Patriot Act, which legalized these practices, expires.
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