Bulk Metadata Collection Is Dead! Long Live Bulk Metadata Collection!

The Obama administration praises death of program while requesting it to be renewed.


White House

Yesterday evening the White House put out a statement by President Barack Obama showing the administration's appreciation for the passage of the USA Freedom Act, which is intended to curtail (but not eliminate) bulk metadata collection from Americans' records that had been done under the PATRIOT Act. The statement said in part:

"Just as important, enactment of this legislation will strengthen civil liberty safeguards and provide greater public confidence in these programs, including by prohibiting bulk collection through the use of Section 215, FISA pen registers, and National Security Letters and by providing the American people with additional transparency measures."

So, of course, The Guardian reports today that the administration is going to attempt to restart the very bulk collection of metadata that the president just said he is glad is about to be prohibited:

US officials confirmed to the Guardian that in the coming days they will ask a secret surveillance court to revive the program – deemed illegal by a federal appeals court – all in the name of "transitioning" the domestic surveillance effort to the telephone companies that generate the so-called "call detail records" the government seeks to access.

The unconventional and unexpected legal circumstance depends on a section of the USA Freedom Act, which Obama signed into law on Tuesday, that provides a six-month grace period to prepare the surveillance and legal bureaucracies for a world in which the National Security Agency is no longer the repository of bulk US phone metadata.

During that time, the act's ban on bulk collection will not yet take effect.

Read the whole thing here. Remember what Sen. Rand Paul's objections brought us. Because Paul forced Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act to sunset, the federal government wound down this particular bulk collection (or so we've been told). But now the administration wants to fire it all back up while the six-month transition takes place. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Paul's partner in forcing Section 215 to expire, is not impressed:

"I see no reason for the executive branch to restart bulk collection, even for a few months, and I urge them not to attempt to do so. This illegal dragnet surveillance violated Americans' rights for 14 years without making our country any safer, and the administration should leave it on the ash heap of history," Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and member of the Senate intelligence committee, told the Guardian on Wednesday.

A reminder: The Second Circuit ruled that Section 215 never authorized the level of metadata collection the National Security Agency (NSA) had implemented in the first place. But the court didn't demand any particular action from its ruling because the judges knew that Section 215 was set to expire, so they left it to Congress to decide how to approach it.