When Will the NSA Stop Spying on Innocent Americans?

stop spy

Unless Congress acts, Americans will soon benefit from one of the Patriot Act’s most important safeguards against abuse: Language in Section 215 of the law is scheduled to expire in June, depriving the FBI and NSA of a provision they’ve used to justify monitoring the phone calls of tens of millions of innocents (though a primary author of the law insists that it grants no such authority). If you’ve used a landline to call an abortion clinic, a gun store, a suicide hotline, a therapist, an oncologist, a phone sex operator, an investigative journalist, or a union organizer, odds are the government has logged a record of the call. If your Congressional representative has a spouse or child who has made an embarrassing phone call, the executive branch may well possess the ability to document it, though government apologists insist that they’d never do so and are strangely confident that future governments composed of unknown people won’t either.

Americans know about this intrusive spying on innocents thanks to Edward Snowden, the Booz Allen Hamilton contractor whose leaks revealed what national security officials hid even when doing so required lying in sworn testimony. In the aftermath of Snowden’s leaks, the NSA argued that the phone dragnet is an important counterterrorism tool subject to careful safeguards against abuse. Keith Alexander went so far as to insist that it helped foil multiple terror plots.

But after an independent review of the program, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, a bipartisan agency within the executive branch, concluded that “the operation of the NSA’s bulk telephone records program bears almost no resemblance” to the statutory language that supposedly justifies it. In addition to declaring the program illegal and Constitutionally suspect, their report noted that “the Section 215 program has shown minimal value in safeguarding the nation from terrorism. Based on the information provided to the Board, including classified briefings and documentation, we have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation.”

Put simply, the phone dragnet risks the possibility of significant abuses yet offers scant benefits. It’s the sort of excess in the War on Terror that ought to be easy to end.

In fact, even some within the spy community urged that course, according to AP. “The National Security Agency considered abandoning its secret program to collect and store American calling records in the months..

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