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Trump Admin May Revive NSA Telephone Surveillance

The Trump White House is calling on Congress to revive the National Security Agency’s (NSA) controversial dragnet to collect phone and text data on millions of Americans, despite the agency’s earlier recommendation to abandon the law.

Outgoing director of national intelligence (DNI) Dan Coats reportedly asked Congress to reauthorize the USA Freedom Act, broad-brush surveillance legislation created in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks slated to expire at the end of this year, The Hill reported. The Call Details Record (CDR) program, first created under former President Bush without Congressional or court approval, involves the mass collection of communications metadata. Whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the program’s existence some six years ago.

In April, the NSA unexpectedly reversed its position that the program was vital to national security, instead contending that the logistics, legal issues and inability to corral useful intelligence overburdened its benefits, a report in the Wall Street Journal said. Congress last authorized a version of the program in 2015. The law has been widely criticized by privacy advocates and civil liberties groups.

In a letter addressed to the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, Coats said the NSA had suspended the phone call records program but needed the option to kick start it again if necessary, The Hill reported.

“I write to express the support of the Intelligence Community and Administration for the permanent reauthorization of the provisions of the USA Freedom Act of 2015 that are currently set to expire in December,” Coats reportedly wrote in a letter addressed to the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence Committees. “These provisions provide the [intelligence community] with key national security authorities, and we look forward to working with the Congress on their permanent reauthorization,” Coats said. “However, as technology changes, our adversaries’ tradecraft and communications habits will continue to evolve and adapt. In light of this dynamic environment, the Administration supports reauthorization of this provision as well.”

Coats is said to be particularly concerned with retaining the government’s ability to wiretap a lone actor terrorist and to collect business records in a national security investigation, the report said.

“If the program does not help ensure the safety of Americans, cannot stay within the law, and violates our privacy, then why should Congress reauthorize it? After all, as of now, the NSA isn’t even using it,” wrote Matthew Guariglia in a blog posted on the Electronic Frontier Foundation website. “ “This December, rather than permanently renew the authorization that allows the NSA to use an invasive program, it’s important that we push Congress to end the Call Details Record program once and for all and enact other important reforms.”

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