A 180-day transition period ended over the weekend and the USA Freedom Act, passed by Congress last summer, has stripped the NSA of at least one of its powers—the bulk collection of phone records of American citizens in the USA and abroad.
The unwarranted access to Verizon customers’ telephone metadata—numbers called, length of calls, location where calls were made, etc.—was first made public in June of 2013. It was the first in a series of leaks by whistleblower Edward Snowden, leaks that would eventually form a bigger picture of the NSA’s massive PRISM surveillance program.
As of midnight Saturday, the NSA will now need a court order to get access to this same information. Here’s James R. Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, on the new regime:
“(The Freedom Act) allows national security professionals to retain the capabilities necessary to continue protecting the country, while strengthening the civil liberties protections that the American people cherish.”
Keep in mind this is the same guy who lied to Congress about NSA’s indiscriminate phone data collection.
I should also point out that other aspects of PRISM, like the bulk collection of Internet communications, are unaffected by the new law. Remember too, that only Americans’ phone data is safe from spying; for the other Five Eyes partners—Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand—it’s business as usual. In fact, legislation is currently being tabled in the UK to give the government even more snooping powers than they currently have.
Oh, and more thing: The NSA wants to hang on to the phone data they’ve already collected for five years, just because.