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article imageNSA stops using phone data, but White House says 'No' to Snowden

By Caroline Leopold     Jul 28, 2015 in Politics
The Obama administration has decided that the National Security Agency will soon stop using millions of American calling records it collected under a controversial program leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Congress passed a law in June ending the NSA's bulk collection of American calling records after a six-month transition, but at the time, officials weren't sure whether they would continue to use records they already collected.
On Monday, the Director of National Intelligence said in a statement those records would no longer be examined in terrorism investigations after Nov. 29, and would be destroyed as soon as possible, according to the Associated Press.
The NSA collection program began shortly after the September 2001 terrorist attacks, with most of the records being purged every five years. Edward Snowden exposed this practice by notifying journalists in 2013 and leaked documents that said the NSA was gathering telephone metadata from Verizon.
In uncanny timing, the day after the announcement that the phone surveillance program will end, the White House responded to a petition for the pardon of Snowden. The petition, first sent to the White House in 2013 with more than 167,000 signatures, got an answer on Tuesday.
The response quoted Lisa Monaco, the President's Advisor on Homeland Security and Counterterrorism:
Mr. Snowden's dangerous decision to steal and disclose classified information had severe consequences for the security of our country and the people who work day in and day out to protect it...If he felt his actions were consistent with civil disobedience, then he should do what those who have taken issue with their own government do: Challenge it, speak out, engage in a constructive act of protest, and — importantly — accept the consequences of his actions.
Snowden has been charged with espionage by the U.S. Department of Justice and is residing in Russia under temporary asylum.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a statement saying it will cease collecting when the transition period ends, but records involved in civil lawsuits will be retained, but then those records will be purged.
The USA Freedom Act passed on June 2 restored in modified form provisions of the Patriot Act, which had expired the day before. The Act — which was the first reform of the nation's post 9/11 surveillance measures — provided new restrictions on the bulk collection of calling records.
Under the new provisions, the NSA must request the records from phone companies as needed in terrorism investigations.
The NSA used the database around 300 times a year against phone numbers suspected of being linked to terrorism, but the program was not considered instrumental in detecting terror plots, according to the AP.
A report of an independent board investigating the program in 2014 came to a similar conclusion. “We have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the telephone records program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation.” the report said, according to The Washington Post.
The AP reports that some officials inside the NSA wanted to stop collecting the records because they were concerned about civil liberties and they didn't believe the program was effective. Many mobile phone records, for example, were not collected.
More about Nsa, edward snowden, telephone records, Verizon
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