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NSA Can Continue Collecting Phone Data… at Least for Now

The NSA can continue to collect bulk phone data under the USA Freedom Act, at least for now. (Image: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain)
The NSA can continue to collect bulk phone data under the USA Freedom Act, at least for now. (Image: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain)

The National Security Agency (NSA) has been given the green light to continue its controversial bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records, albeit only a temporary go-ahead by the U.S. courts.

Back in May, an appeals court had ruled that the USA Patriot Act did not give authorization for the NSA to collect Americans’ phone records in bulk.

The eavesdropping program was exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

U.S. surveillance court rules NSA can resume spying on Americans:

The USA Freedom Act, which is a new law, was signed off by U.S. President Barack Obama a day after the existing USA Patriot Act program lapsed on June 1. The new law has greatly reformed and narrowed the bulk phone data program. It also will allow the existing surveillance program to continue on for a further 6 months as a transition period, but it remains in a legal limbo pending Monday’s ruling by a judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court [FISC], according to Reuters.

Michael Mosman, a judge on the surveillance court, wrote: “In passing the US.A Freedom Act, Congress clearly intended to end bulk data collection… But what it took away with one hand, it gave back—for a limited time—with another.”

Mosman had rejected the May ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan that the Patriot Act had never authorized the NSA to collect Americans’ phone records in bulk in his ruling, reported The New York Times.

NSA allowed to resume bulk data collection on Americans:

Mosman wrote: “Second Circuit rulings are not binding on the FISC, and this court respectfully disagrees with that court’s analysis, especially in view of the intervening enactment of the USA Freedom Act.”

Wyn Hornbuckle, a spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department, has welcomed the decision saying: “We agree with the Court’s conclusion that the program is lawful, and that in passing the USA Freedom Act, Congress provided for a 180-day transition period for the government to continue the existing collection program until the new mechanism of obtaining call detail records is implemented.”

The USA Freedom Act requires companies to collect and store telephone records in the same way that they do now for billing purposes. But no longer have to give the data to U.S. intelligence agencies until they have a government request approved by the FISC. The telephone companies only give data about phone calls, such as the number dialed, and the time and length of the call, but not the call’s actual content. At least, that’s what they tell us.

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