Lost in all the miasma emanating from this White House that makes it unlike any other, it’s easy to overlook the similarity between it and other recent administrations when it comes to unconstitutional spying on law-abiding Americans. The Trump administration is reportedly pushing Congress to permanently reauthorize an NSA program that collects and analyzes records on millions of Americans’ calls and texts (DRAD opposes the reauthorization).
It’s a surprising position for the White House to take considering NSA publicly admitted it no longer relies on the program, saying its logistical burdens outweigh its value to national security. Even Republican lawmakers like House minority leader Kevin McCarty have hinted that the program isn’t worth preserving. Never mind the fact the president himself has complained chronically about allegedly having his phones tapped during the 2016 campaign. One would think Trump would be more emphatic …. never mind.
So why would outgoing DNI Dan Coats use his last day in office to send a letter to the top members of the Senate judiciary and intelligence committees that acknowledges the NSA’s abandonment of the program but still calls to make permanent its legal authority?
The program is authorized by the USA Freedom Act, which modified Section 215 of the Patriot Act. It was enacted in response to Edward Snowden’s revelations about NSA’s sweeping data collection practices. Although sold to the American people as a reform bill, USA Freedom in fact did little to protect us from NSA warrantless spying. It is due to expire at the end of this year,
Trump’s recommendation to make permanent a Bush-era surveillance program that was modified while Obama was president shows that no matter who is in control, unconstitutional surveillance on Americans continues to find support in Washington. Both parties drink heartily from the mass surveillance trough despite repeated warnings from intelligence analysts and experts that reviewed the data and found NSA’s bulk collection of phone records “was not essential to preventing attacks.” One FBI agent even described the leads that are generated by these types of programs as “garbage”.
With almost two decades of data examined, there is little evidence that shows bulk data collection is effective at making Americans safer. But much like political dark money and over-the-top inauguration party outfits, some Washington traditions show few signs of going away without a fight.