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USA Freedom Act: Big Win for NSA?

According to The Daily Beast, far from handcuffing the NSA, the misnamed USA FREEDOM Act not only does not stop the NSA from conducting mass surveillance and bulk collection, one major part of the bill originated with the NSA itself.

Read the whole story here, with expects below:

The really big winner here is the NSA. Over at its headquarters in Ft. Meade, Md., intelligence officials are high-fiving, because they know things could have turned out much worse.

“What no one wants to say out loud is that this is a big win for the NSA, and a huge nothing burger for the privacy community,” said a former senior intelligence official, one of half a dozen who have spoken to The Daily Beast about the phone records program and efforts to change it.

Here’s the dirty little secret that many spooks are loathe to utter publicly, but have been admitting in private for the past two years: The program, which was exposed in documents leaked by Edward Snowden in 2013, is more trouble than it’s worth.

It’s very expensive and very cumbersome,” the former official said. It requires the agency to maintain huge databases of all Americans’ landline phone calls. But it doesn’t contribute many leads on terrorists. It has helped prevent few—if any—attacks. And it’s nowhere near the biggest contributor of information about terrorism that ends up on the desk of the president and other senior decision makers.

If, after the most significant public debate about balancing surveillance and liberty in a generation, this is the program that the NSA has to give up, they’re getting off easy.

The bill that the House passed yesterday, called the USA Freedom Act, doesn’t actually suspend the phone records program. Rather, it requires that phone companies, not the NSA, hold onto the records.

“Good! Let them take them. I’m tired of holding onto this,” a current senior U.S. official told The Daily Beast. It requires teams of lawyers and auditors to ensure that the NSA is complying with the Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which authorizes the program, as well as internal regulations on how the records can and can’t be used, he said. The phone records program has become a political lightning rod, the most controversial of all the classified operations that Snowden exposed. If the NSA can still get access to the records but not have to hold onto them itself, all the better, the senior official said.

....

The NSA is coming out of this unscathed,” said the former official. If the USA Freedom Act passes the Senate—which is not a forgone conclusion—it’ll be signed by President Obama and create “a more efficient and comprehensive tool” for the NSA. That’s because under the current regime, only the logs of landline calls are kept. But in the future, the NSA would be able to get cell phone records from the companies, too.

“That’s great,” the former official said. “I think no one thought it was in the realm of the possible before this bill.”

With the battle over extending the sunseting PATRIOT Act provisions  moving to the Senate, and with Senator Rand Paul promising to filibuster any legislation that does not roll-back the snoop sate, Campaign for Liberty is preparing to run our most effective program to get Congress to roll-back the surveillance state.

Please support our efforts by contributing to our Stop the Surveillance State Money Bomb. Remember, thanks to one generous donor, all donations made before Sunday at midnight will be matched!

 


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