Jennifer Steinhauer writing for the NYT on the House voting to end the NSA bulk phone data collection program:
The House on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved legislation to end the federal government’s bulk collection of phone records, exerting enormous pressure on Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate majority leader, who insists that dragnet sweeps continue in defiance of many of those in his Republican Party.
Under the bipartisan bill, which passed 338 to 88, the Patriot Act would be changed to prohibit bulk collection by the National Security Agency of metadata charting telephone calls made by Americans. However, while the House version of the bill would take the government out of the collection business, it would not deny it access to the information. It would be in the hands of the private sector — almost certainly the telecommunications firms like AT&T, Verizon and Sprint — that already keep the records for billing purposes and hold on to them from 18 months to five years.
So for the N.S.A., which has been internally questioning the cost effectiveness of bulk collection for years, the bill would make the agency’s searches somewhat less efficient, but it would not wipe them out. With the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court the spy agencies, or the F.B.I., could request data relevant to an investigation. Corporate executives have said that while they would have to reformat some data to satisfy government search requirements, they could likely provide data quickly.
While not an entire perfect piece of legislation – what is? – this is a step in the right direction. There are provisions in this bill accommodating methods for the NSA to obtain information from the carriers, but the program as it is currently architected should go away.
Do not assume this means the NSA will stop bulk collection of phone information via other means. The NSA plays quite tricky with its authorities – section 215, section 702, and the catch-all EO 12333 – so the agency will surely find a way to ensure the program remains legal.
The legislation would also bar permitting bulk collection of records using other tools like so-called national security letters, which are a kind of administrative subpoena.
This is good news. NSL’s are one of the most dangerous capabilities in the DOJ’s Patriot Act arsenal. Removing this weapon, which generally comes bundled with a gag order so the recipients are even unable to mention the mere existence of an NSL, is just downright frightening.
There is a long way to go, and a tough fight ahead, but the momentum is shifting. We can all finally see some light at the end of this privacy invading tunnel and this terrible black mark on American history.