NSA Ends Mass Collection Of Telephone Records

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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The move is the biggest limitation of US surveillance powers since 2001

The US National Security Agency (NSA) has ended its mass collection of US citizens’ telephone records on Saturday night, two-and-a-half years after the programme was revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

With the end of the programme, under which the NSA collected the metadata of telephone calls, including numbers called, when the call is placed and call duration, the NSA will no longer have automatic access to such data, but will have to apply for an order from a special court on a case-by-case basis to retrieve the information from telephone companies.

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Surveillance controversy

The programme, and others like it disclosed by Snowden, caused widespread controversy in the US as well as in Europe, and led to the recent cancellation of the “Safe Harbour” programme that had allowed US companies to store the data of European citizens in their home country. It was introduced with the Patriot Act in the wake of the 11 September, 2001 attacks.

The Freedom Act reforming such practices, passed into law six months ago, is the biggest reduction in US spying capabilities since the Patriot Act, according to the Obama administration. The new law requires the government to provide annual records disclosing the number of data requests it makes.

Some US lawmakers have argued the Freedom Act doesn’t do enough to limit the NSA’s activities.

Data to be purged

The NSA is to preserve metadata collected over the past five years until 29 February to ensure the new system is working properly, and after that, once pending litigation is resolved, the NSA is to purge all its historic metadata records, according to the administration.

Some Republican politicians have pushed to preserve the mass surveillance programme until 2017, citing the dangers illustrated by the 13 November attacks in Paris, but any new measures are unlikely to become law ahead of next year’s presidential elections.

The bulk collection programme didn’t lead to a single clear counter-terrorism breakthrough, according to a presidential review committee.

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