The NSA is gearing up to collect millions of Americans telephone metadata – again.
Just two days after the agency shut down that program when the Patriot Act provision that authorized it expired Sunday at midnight, the Senate restored those authorities, allowing the government to reinstate bulk data collection – for the next six months.
By passing the USA Freedom Act, the bill intended to end that very program, which is being lauded by most reform advocates as the right balance to rein in the NSA’s domestic surveillance powers.
That’s because the bill gives the government a six-month period to transition to the new system, under which telecommunications companies would hold onto the data, only handing information over if the government has a targeted warrant.
So before getting to the new system, the government needs to go back to the old one, indiscriminately collecting metadata on millions of Americans.
That comes just as the staunchest proponents of slashing the NSA’s domestic spying powers like Sen. Rand Paul warmed to the measure.
“The government after this bill passes will no longer collect your phone records,” Paul declared Sunday evening on the Senate floor, after the Senate moved to take up the USA Freedom Act.
That remark appeared to be aimed to reassure the supporters he had electrified throughout his efforts to block the reauthorization of the Patriot Act and even his opposition to that House bill – claiming it does not go far enough in reforming the NSA.
But after the bill passes, the government will in fact “collect your phone records,” to use Paul’s words – for six more months.
It’s unclear how quickly the NSA would get the program up and running again, but senior administration officials have said it could take a few days.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, commonly known as the FISA court, would need to review a request to reboot the program. It’s the same court that has approved government requests for bulk metadata collection since 2006.
The legislation is now headed to President Barack Obama for his signature, but Americans will have escaped bulk data collection for at least 48 hours.