Some in Congress Want to Revive NSA Spying
If some senators have their way, the National Security Agency will be able to keep Americans’ cell phone metadata collected through its now-defunct bulk collection program. It’s the second attempt to salvage the controversial apparatus.
In June, the Senate gave final approval to the USA Freedom Act passed in a strong, bipartisan vote. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., one of the more hawkish members of Congress since going to Washington in January 2013, strongly opposed the bill.
The Liberty Through Strength Act, which sounds like it could have come straight out of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four, would have delayed the end of the NSA’s bulk metadata collection program. Cotton introduced the measure just four days after the Paris terrorist attacks. Though it’s unlikely that Congress will revisit the recently implemented law, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., supported Cotton’s initial legislation.
The latest version, the Liberty Through Strength Act II, would allow the NSA to keep metadata collected prior to the transition into the new system and makes permanent provisions of the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act (FISA), including Section 702.
“On Sunday our constitutional, legal, and proven NSA collection architecture shifted to an untested, less effective system in the dead of the night. This shift came at a time when our enemies are emboldened and we face an elevated national security threat,” Cotton said in a release on Wednesday. “Worse, President Obama has decided that he will press delete on the metadata records we currently have, making it impossible to identify terrorist connections among these data that would reveal ISIS and Al Qaeda sleeper cells.”
“The gaps in our intelligence system created by the USA FREEDOM Act leave us less safe and provide us with fewer tools to fight our enemies. No matter what President Obama may think, it’s clear ISIS is not contained and that these gaps must be addressed before they attack us again. The Liberty Through Strength Act II ensures our intelligence community has the tools they need keep us safe,” he added.
The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board determined that the NSA’s bulk metadata collection program was illegal, among other reasons, because records obtained had “no connection to any specific FBI investigation at the time of their collection” and the NSA lacked statutory authority to collect information. The panel also determined that the program itself wasn’t authorized by statue.
In a separate review, the White House Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology explained that the program “was not essential to preventing attacks.” In other words, the legal and practical narratives for this legislation just went out the window.