On Jan.3, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) renewed the government’s request for three additional months of bulk collection of telephony metadata.

In a press release accompanying the disclosure, a Director of National Intelligence (DNI) spokesman also stated that “the Intelligence Community continues to be open to modifications to this program that would provide additional privacy and civil liberty protections while still maintaining its operational benefits.”

Despite the public suggestion that it is open to changing how it conducts its surveillance practices, many supporting the intelligence community are resistant to any major alteration. Rachel Brand, a former Justice Department lawyer who defended NSA surveillance within the USA Patriot Act under the Bush administration said,”I am concerned about the detrimental effect…superfluous second-guessing can have on our national security agencies and their staff.”

Nevertheless, President Obama recently outlined his goals for restructuring how the NSA collects and stores vast amounts of information obtained through intelligence channels. Specifically, the president said that individual companies would have to store data currently being collected by the NSA. Furthermore, the NSA can only access that information once a court warrant has been obtained.

However, President Obama’s changes to the NSA’s collection of metadata were not enough for the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), an independent bi-partisan agency within the executive branch which was set up after the 9/11 Commission recommendations in 2007. On Jan 23, less than a week after the president released his changes, the PCLOB released a report which declared the bulk collection of metadata approved by the FISC to be unconstitutional and that the illegal practice ought to be immediately discontinued.  ​​​​​​​​

Needless to say, things are moving very quickly on the NSA surveillance field. This final approval of the government’s collection of metadata may be short lived given the amount of changes that will be occurring both on the executive and legislative sides of Pennsylvania Avenue. Three months from now, when the FISC would have been presented with another application for continuing surveillance, the intelligence community’s modus operandi for data collection may look very different indeed.

Matthew Shoemaker

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