The NSA on Sunday ended its controversial surveillance program, initiated by the George W. Bush administration in 2006, which collected the metadata of all communications in the United States.
The creation of the bulk collection program was the result of criticism by the 9/11 Commission, and many security experts, who argued that the information about the nineteen 9/11 terrorists was available, but that law enforcement and intelligence agencies lacked structure and procedure, which would have allowed them to “connect the dots.”
The collected data were then stored so that if law enforcement began to monitor an individual on suspicion of plotting a terrorist act, the authorities could go into the vast database to see what other individuals the suspect was communicating with, and explore the communication networks of those individuals.
The creation of the bulk collection program was the result of criticism by the 9/11 Commission, and many security experts, who argued that the information about the nineteen 9/11 terrorists was available, but that law enforcement and intelligence agencies lacked structure and procedure which would have allowed them to “connect the dots.”
The White House said Friday that a new, scaled-back system will be in place to replace the nexpiring system. Fox News reports that the system’s demise comes two and a half years after the program was exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Six months ago, Congress passed a revised version of the Patriot Act, which mandated the change. Seucrity experts regard the change as the most significant reduction in U.S. intelligence gathering and surveillance capabilities since these capabilities were dramatically expanded in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Supporters of the collection program said the limiting of U.S. intelligence collection capabilities would not help in the fight against terrorism. Sen. Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told “Fox News Sunday” that police investigators in France and Belgium found a cellphone number, then were able to see other numbers to which it had contacted, thwarting another attack and leading to at least a dozen arrests.
“I’m not sure that we know the full extent of what we’ve learned to this point, but any time you can take electronics and use those selectors, it’s beneficial to the world’s intelligence community,” Burr said. “And the United States made a real mistake when they eliminated this program.”
Under the Freedom Act, which was passed by the GOP-controlled Congress in the summer, the NSA and law enforcement agencies can no longer collect telephone calling records in bulk. The information the NSA was collecting – metadata — reveal which numbers Americans are calling and what time they place those calls, but not the content of the conversations.
Law enforcement and intelligence agencies must now get a court order to ask telecommunications companies to enable monitoring of call records of specific individuals, or groups, for up to six months.
Burr and other Senate Republicans, including Arkansas’ Tom Cotton, have introduced a bill which would revive the collection program, but observers say there is little chance of the bill passing.
Burr, however, remains optimistic. “It’s amazing what happens when people are reminded what terrorists can do,” he told Fox News Sunday. “The American people recognize that the indiscriminate, brutal acts that (the Islamic State) carried out could happen in any community across this country and throughout the world. And I think as Americans, we believe we should do everything we can to eliminate that … I want to make sure that the tools that law enforcement have are as robust as they possibly can be.”
Source: Homeland Security News Wire