As of 11:59 pm Saturday, the United States National Security Agency (NSA) no longer had the authority to collect bulk information of millions of U.S. citizens from telecommunication companies in the country, and will now be required to obtain a court order on specific targets.
As part of the USA Freedom Act, signed into law in June, the NSA and the executive branch had 180 days to end the program and do the necessary transition into the new program for surveillance.
The new law would require the U.S. administration to present its case to the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for requesting specific records from telecommunication companies.
The NSA’s “metadata” program was introduced following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks using a law called the USA Patriot Act, which gave the FBI power to demand “any tangible things” needed “for an investigation to obtain foreign intelligence information.” The law allowed the FBI to collect the data from telecommunication companies, without a court order, and turn it over to the NSA.
The program was revealed by NSA contractor-turned whistleblower Edward Snowden in June 2013, unleashing a national and global outrage and forcing the government of President Barack Obama to admit its existence and take steps against it.
The Intercept website, which was founded by journalists Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald who received the NSA documents from Snowden, welcomed the news.
“The end of the bulk collection program is a modest but real victory for former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden,” Joe Schwarz said in a report on the news for The Intercept website Saturday.
In 47minutes one tiny fraction of the NSA dragnet will end. https://t.co/NftgwaowHa— emptywheel (@emptywheel) November 29, 201
The new law, however, only applies to collecting data in the U.S. and does not cover NSA’s spying in foreign countries. According to the White House, Metadata collected by the NSA over the past five years will be preserved for "data integrity purposes" through Feb. 29.
Meanwhile, some Republican lawmakers want to preserve bulk collection until 2017, citing the Nov. 13 Paris attacks in which 130 people died. “I think we need to restore the metadata program, which was part of the Patriot Act,” Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush said on Nov. 16. The program was introduced and approved by his brother former President George W. Bush.
However, a January 2014 analysis of 225 terrorism cases inside the U.S. since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks concluded that the now-ending NSA program “has had no discernible impact on preventing acts of terrorism.”
This view was echoed by a presidential review committee a month earlier in December 2013 which found that NSA counterterrorism program “was not essential to preventing attacks” and that much of the evidence it did turn up “could readily have been obtained in a timely manner using conventional [court] orders.”