Since 2001, the NSA has secretly ingested the calling records of virtually every US mobile phone subscriber, with the covert participation of the mobile carries; the program — authorized by a secret order of then-president GW Bush — remained secret until it was disclosed through documents provided to journalists by the whistleblower Edward Snowden.
After the Snowden revelations, a cowardly Congress retroactively legalized the NSA's domestic surveillance program with a 2015 bill called the USA Freedom Act (yes, seriously). The Act expires this year and there has been little action to reauthorize the program after it does.
Now, Luke Murry — a national security advisor to the House Republican minority — has claimed in a Lawfare podcast interview that the system has not been used "in months," and that the GOP has no appetite for renewing it.
Murry is an advisor to Representative Kevin McCarthy [R-CA], who quickly threw Murry under the bus, stating that Murry "was not speaking on behalf of administration policy or what Congress intends to do on this issue."
The NSA has never provided any evidence that the program has thwarted a single terrorist attack. Last year, it was forced to delete all data gathered under the program because an unnamed mobile carrier had provided the Agency with more data than it requested, causing it to overcollect, even by the lax standards set out in the (barf) USA Freedom Act.
Problems with the system emerged last year, when the National Security Agency said it had decided to delete its entire database of records gathered since the Freedom Act system became operational. Glenn S. Gerstell, the agency's general counsel, said in an interview at the time that because of complex technical glitches, one or more telecom providers — he declined to say which — had responded to court orders for records by sending logs to the agency that included both accurate and inaccurate data.
When the agency then fed those numbers back to the telecoms to get the communications logs of all of the people who had been in contact with its targets, it ended up gathering some data of people unconnected to the targets. The agency had no authority to collect their information, nor a practical way to go through its large database and cull those records it should not have gathered. As a result, it decided to purge them all and start over.
But it had not been clear until Mr. Murry's comments in the podcast that was posted over the weekend that the problems have continued, even as a legislative battle over the Freedom Act — and the inevitable scrutiny of how the program has functioned — has drawn near.
Disputed N.S.A. Phone Program Is Shut Down, Aide Says [Charlie Savage/New York Times]