House, Senate Bills Would Formally End NSA Phone Metadata Collection

Bills introduced in the House and Senate yesterday would put a formal end to a National Security Agency program that has collected communications records metadata of U.S. citizens for intelligence and law enforcement use, following unconfirmed reports that NSA and the Trump administration are no longer interested in continuing the program.

The program as recently as 2017 collected more than 500 million phone and text metadata records–including who contacted whom, when, and for how long–but not the content of the communications.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a long-time foe of the data collection program, said in a statement that the bill aims to “put a stake in the heart of this unnecessary government surveillance program and start to restore some of Americans’ liberties.”

“The NSA’s sprawling phone records dragnet was born in secrecy, defended with lies and never stopped a single terrorist attack. Even after Congress acted in 2015, the program collected over half a billion phone records in a single year,” the senator said, adding, “This bill is just the opening bid in a much-needed, broad overhaul of Section 215 of the Patriot Act.”

The bill, called the “Ending Mass Collection of Americans’ Phone Records Act,” is sponsored in the Senate by Wyden and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and in the House by Reps. Justin Amash, R-Mich., and Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. The measure, according to its text, would “repeal the authority to access on an ongoing basis business records for foreign intelligence and international terrorism investigations.” The term “business records” in the context of the bill refers to communications records metadata.

“After falsely insisting to Congress that this illegal surveillance program is carefully overseen and critical to national security, the government admitted last year that it had to delete years of records due to legal violations, and now it’s been reported that the program has actually been shuttered for six months,” said Amash in a statement. “Getting rid of this program will vindicate Americans’ rights and begin the process of making the broader PATRIOT Act reforms that are going to be necessary to address the law’s serious constitutional flaws.”

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