New NSA Rules of Surveillance
Post 9/11 the Patriot Act was signed into law giving our government vast and unprecedented powers of surveillance in order to meet this heightened need for national security.
Over a decade later, whistle-blower Edward Snowden would shock the public by releasing classified documents revealing details of the NSA surveillance program that proved the organization had taken these powers even further—spying on its citizens illegally. Civil liberties groups, Privacy advocates, and outraged Americans pushed back, prompting the Obama Administration to pledge changes in how the organization collects and stores bulk U.S. and foreign surveillance data. A year after the pledge to reform the controversial spying program, in February of 2015, the first changes in the NSA rules of surveillance were announced.
Administration Changes to NSA Surveillance Operations
The following reforms were made in order to increase transparency and protect civil liberties:
➢ Intelligence analysts are now required to immediately delete private communications data of Americans when captured "incidentally" as part of foreign surveillance sweeps. This only applies to information deemed extraneous to security purposes.
➢ Inessential data collected on foreigners must also be destroyed, but may be kept for up to 5 years before being discarded.
➢ National security letters (documents submitted to compel corporations to release communications data and financial records for use in national security investigations) will be made public after 3 years. This is a very significant change, as these letters were previously shrouded under tight gag orders which blocked attempts at transparency.
While the changes were a step in the direction of repealing some of the most egregious civil rights violations, privacy advocacy groups attacked the reforms as not going far enough. Any changes that failed to address the NSA's bulk collection of U.S. telephone records were deemed as falling short of protecting citizens against eavesdropping. President Obama threw the ball into Congress' court, asking for lawmakers to send him a bill that included these changes. The USA Freedom Act was drafted in 2013 but a Senate Republican filibuster shut it down. It just so happened that the post-9/11 Patriot Act was about to expire on June 1, guaranteeing the story wouldn't end there.
Congressional Reforms to NSA Surveillance Operations
Renewed and escalated violence in the Middle East lead Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, to call for a quick vote to extend the Patriot Act that was set to expire June, 1, 2015. However, opposition came from legislators concerned with the provision in the law that granted the NSA authority to conduct mass surveillance on U.S. metadata. These lawmakers were aware of their constituents' growing disapproval so they blocked the extension. This is where the Freedom Act reenters the saga. Two days after the Patriot Act expired, the Senate reintroduced the Freedom Act and it passed with a 67-32 vote. The President eagerly signed it into law.
While the legislation revives most of the program, the authorization will undergo the following major changes:
➢ The most controversial aspect of the USA Patriot Act, the clandestine bulk collection of Americans' phone records, has been repealed. The NSA will no longer be permitted to collect and store those records.
➢ The NSA will be required to get court orders from phone companies to obtain data connected to specific numbers. Phone companies usually only keep these records for a period of 18 months.
While some hail the changes as a victory for privacy and civil rights, others call for much more widespread reforms. Edward Snowden, the originator of the public outcry against surveillance gone awry, had this to say about the end of the Patriot Act and the passage of the Freedom Act, "For the first time in recent history, we found that despite the claims of government, the public made the final decision and that is a radical change we should seize on, we should value and we should push forward."