Discussions about the NSA spying program are getting hot again since the Obama administration released a bunch of classified documents late Monday, including the ruling of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that approved a program to systematically track US citizens’ emails. The domestic surveillance of American e-mail metadata traffic started during the Bush administration and ran for around a decade before ending in 2011.
The 87-page document has been heavily redacted – including the date of the judge’s ruling and a description of what the judge had been told about terrorism threats. Authorities used the metadata surveillance to search unknown associates of terrorism suspects. Metadata include information about sender and recipient as well as the date when the message was sent but not its content. The documents show that the Bush administration had to deal with some difficulties because of the complexity of the data. It seems that they collected more than the court had authorized.
The US public also learned that the Bush administration initialized the collection of bulk logs of domestic phone calls. Authorities used the Patriot Act to justify their demand. It allows the collection of business phone calls that could be relevant for an investigation. The Justice Department argued the data would help to protect the people of the United States from attacks that could take thousands of lives. Authorities told the Surveillance Court the collection of metadata wouldn’t endanger the privacy of its targets because the logs did not include any content of communications. The agency collected and stored data like originating and terminating phone numbers, trunk identifiers, calling card numbers, time and duration of calls. After reviewing the program some years later, the court sharply criticized the NSA in 2009 for misleading them about how it used the telephone call logs. However, the program is still active.
And the Obama administration is not willing to end it. The President and his advisers think that there is no alternative to the collection. Early November they insinuated to search for a new technology that allows them to search the records of telephone and Internet companies rather than collecting the data in government computers.
But now there’s protest within the government itself: Three United States senators wrote a letter on Tuesday and said they “have seen no evidence that the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records provided any intelligence of value that could not have been gathered through less intrusive means.” According to the Blog arstechnica.com, the democratic senators Mark Udall, Ron Wyden and Martin Heinrich have been at the forefront of surveillance policy reform. Udall, Wyden and Heinrich argue that the collection of phone data is unconstitutional. It affects their rights to be free of illegal searches and also their free speech rights.