The Obama administration has renewed the authority for the National Security Agency to regularly collect the phone records of millions of Americas as allowed under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The United States government has reportedly asked the FISA court every 90 days since 2006 to renew an order that compels the nation’s telecommunication providers to hand over telephony metadata pertaining to millions of US citizens. The program has been conducted in near total secrecy, however, until NSA leaker Edward Snowden released top-secret documentation to the Guardian newspaper which caused an international backlash upon being published last month.
In that Guardian article, the paper showed that the NSA could collect metadata for 90 days up until July 19, at which point that power would expire if a reauthorization was not resubmitted. Just moments before the 5 p.m. deadline on Friday, though, the Officer of the Director of National Intelligence confirmed that the FISA court has reaffirmed that authority.
“On June 6, 2013, the Director of National Intelligence declassified certain information about this telephony metadata collection program in order to provide the public with a more thorough and balanced understanding of the program,” the statement reads in part. “Consistent with his prior declassification decision and in light of the significant and continuing public interest in the telephony metadata collection program, the DNI has decided to declassify and disclose publicly that the Government filed an application with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court seeking renewal of the authority to collect telephony metadata in bulk, and that the Court renewed that authority.”
“The Administration is undertaking a careful and thorough review of whether and to what extent additional information or documents pertaining to this program may be declassified, consistent with the protection of national security,” it concludes.
The news comes only one day after Guardian journalist Spencer Ackerman reported that neither the White House, Justice Department, NSA, DNI or FISA Court would respond to whether or not the authority would be sought again in the wake of a scandal that’s spawned an international manhunt for Snowden, who has since been indicted in the US on counts of espionage.
A week earlier, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) told the New York Times, “I have a feeling that the administration is getting concerned about the bulk phone records collection, and that they are thinking about whether to move administratively to stop it.”
Pres. Obama and his administration’s top intelligence officials have largely endorsed the surveillance program and credit it with assisting in the thwarting of attempted terror plots both on US soil and abroad.