As much as we’d like to forget about the National Security Agency (NSA) and its mass surveillance program, it seems that there is no distracting ourselves from this unnerving reality.
Missing from the news for quite some time now, the issue has resurfaced once again with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) renewing the government agency’s authorization to continue with the bulk telephony metadata collection program. Apparently, the NSA feels that such a measure is necessary for ensuring the safety of the American people. While it’s hard to disagree with them on that, maybe they’d want to try out a different approach, one that doesn’t involve making a mockery of privacy laws.
Business As Usual For the NSA
The renewal of the phone call metadata collection program is hardly a shocker. It was only last year that we saw the FISC authorize the collection and storage of phone call records of millions of American citizens irrespective of whether they were innocent or suspected of being involved in a wrongdoing. Major telecom companies were directed to cooperate with the NSA, handing over information on its system pertaining to phone calls within the US and even those between the US and other countries. The information to be shared included the phone numbers of parties, the location data, call duration, time, and unique identifiers. Over the course of nearly 14 months that followed, the secret court renewed the authorization for the program a number of times, with the latest authorization coming a few days ago. The fact was declassified by the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. The latest order is to expire after 90 days on September 12, 2014. The declassification of the court order would do well to protect government from future allegations that it is secretly spying on its own people.
Government’s Plan to De-Stigmatize the Program
The NSA issue has been haunting the government for quite some time now, with the public becoming increasingly suspicious of its “protectors”. To keep the trust deficit from growing, President Barack Obama revealed his plans to reform the bulk telephony metadata program in his speech at the Department of Justice earlier this year. The proposed changes, termed the US Freedom Act, have already been passed by the House of Representatives but are waiting the approval of the Senate. Once enacted, the US Freedom Act would require the NSA to acquire a court order before going through the phone metadata, provided that there is reasonable suspicion that the selection, be it an individual, a device or an event, is associated with a listed international terrorist organization. Furthermore, the government would no longer hold or store the phone call information. Instead, it would remain with the phone companies. Additionally, any metadata sought by the NSA must be within two hops of the selection term. If what the Director of National Intelligence said is to be believed, the program will stay within these limitations this time around.
The Voice for Privacy Getting Louder
Despite the efforts of the government to make NSA’s activities seem less controversial and more acceptable to the general public, consumer advocates and lawmakers, the opposition against the bulk phone call metadata collection program is as strong as ever. Only recently, the US House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed an amendment to cut funding for NSA backdoors searches. The move is one of the many efforts that are being made to prevent the security agency from what is widely believed to be unconstitutional surveillance of the American public.
There is no denying the fact that extraordinary measures are imperative for dealing with the growing threat of terrorism. However, the US government needs to be mindful of the fact that aside from protecting the lives of its people, it is also responsible for protecting their rights.
Alyssa reports and writes on almost every technology related topic, contributing to many tech sites, such as www.stealthmate.com. Her special focus is on mobile phone security, business apps and wireless technology.