Senate Moves to Renew Law Allowing Bulk Telephone Metadata Collection
The legal authority enabling the National Security Agency’s bulk telephone metadata collection program that Edward Snowden exposed two years ago is set to expire June 1. But not if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and others have their way.
The Republican from Kentucky introduced the legislation (PDF) late Tuesday that would allow the once-secret program, authorized by Section 215 of the Patriot Act, to continue through 2020. McConnell invoked a rule that bypasses the usual committee vetting process, enabling the bill to go directly to the Senate floor, where a vote has not been scheduled.
The measure, which immediately drew criticism from privacy advocates and some members of Congress, allows the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to essentially rubber-stamp government requests for so-called “business records” held by just about any institution, including the phone companies. Interpreted to require the telcos to cough up millions upon millions of calling records about their customers, it requires them to provide the National Security Agency with the phone numbers of both parties in a call, calling card numbers, the length and time of the calls, and the international mobile subscriber identity (ISMI) number for mobile callers. The NSA keeps a running database of that information, saying that it runs queries solely to combat terrorism.