The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in the United States has voted to approve an extension on the NSA’s most controversial phone record collection programs until June 1.
The campaigns, which have caught an equal amount of flak from both sides of the aisle, have repeatedly avoided being shut down despite the continued efforts of Democrats, Republicans, and even the President himself.
When grilled about the extension of the program, press secretary for the White House Josh Earnest said that although the blanket collection of phone records and metadata would persist, the administration is working carefully with lawmakers to be sure that “important modifications” exist within the framework of the agreement which should prevent any further abuses of power on the NSA’s part.
“While the administration waits for the Congress to act, it has continued to operate the program with … important modifications in place.”
Obama, who has (at least publicly) been a vocal opponent of programs like MUSCULAR and XKeyscore, has said that it is not up to him whether or not the NSA is allowed to continue with their efforts unimpeded, rather shifting the responsibility in the matter to a Congress and Senate which can’t seem to agree on how much power is “too much”.
“Congress has a limited window before the June 1 sunset to enact legislation that would implement the President’s proposed path forward for the telephony metadata program, while preserving key intelligence authorities,” Earnest said in his statement. “The administration continues to stand ready to work with the Congress on such legislation and would welcome the opportunity to do so.”
June has been set as the hard date that members of Congress will need to stick to if they intend to actually do anything about the shutdown of the NSA’s most prized project, though the FISA court could very easily circumvent this limit by simply placing another extension once that deadline hits, essentially making it meaningless.
The deadline has been extended five times since the Snowden leaks first went live, which means that even if Congress is intending to finally make a decision about what to do with the NSA, it likely won’t happen anytime in the next few months, June 1 calendar date be damned.
The closest the House of Representatives have got thus far to inciting real change in this department came last year, during the vote for the USA Freedom Act.
That bill, which would have made significant strides toward fundamentally altering how the NSA is structured as well as the amount of funding they receive for various projects each year, was struck down in the Senate after many privacy advocacy organizations accused it of being “too soft” and a “gutted shell of its former self” that didn’t go nearly far enough to curb an agency which was clearly far beyond the control that any one regulatory agency or body would be able to handle on its own.
No bills have appeared since that might give hope to members of the EFF that we might be on the path to true reform, but if things keep up the way they have until now, it would be foolish to get excited before ultimately being disappointed by our system yet again.