Speed Reads

Whimper not bang

The NSA might have quietly killed the surveillance program exposed by Edward Snowden

The National Security Agency is considering ending a phone metadata collection program that was originally made public by fugitive NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013, The Wall Street Journal reports, citing sources who say the program lacks operational value.

The NSA has not used the latest iteration of the program in six months, and it may not request its renewal when it expires in December, The New York Times says, citing comments on a Lawfare podcast by Luke Murry, the national security adviser to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

The program was first secretly rolled out under former President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, then modified and approved by a secret surveillance court, and finally changed by Congress in 2015 after Snowden's leak. Originally called Stellarwind, it allowed the NSA to bulk-collect phone records for millions of Americans. showing which numbers they called, when, and for how long, but not the content of those calls.

This metadata, the NSA said, allowed the agency to map out social networks of known or suspected terrorists. In 2015, the USA Freedom Act required phone companies, rather than the NSA, store the data and allow the NSA to search specific numbers with a court's assent.

But problems cropped up in the system last year; the NSA said technical glitches at one of the phone companies contaminated the entire database, feeding the spy agency records it had not requested and was legally unable to use. So the NSA deleted the entire database going back to when the USA Freedom Act went into effect. An NSA spokesman told the Times the White House will make the ultimate decision on whether to ask Congress to renew that law in December, but Murry told Lawfare he's "actually not certain that the administration will want to start that back up."

Read more at The New York Times, or listen to the Lawfare podcast below. Peter Weber