NSA Stops Collecting Certain Data

May 18th, 2010 | Sources: Washington Post


After receiving an update from intelligence officials about methods used by the National Security Agency to collect electronic data to spy on US citizens in terrorism and espionage cases, the federal court that oversees these activities has raised concerns about their legality.

gimmethatAs a result, the NSA suspended those activities, the officials told the Washington Post.

The officials had briefed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court about “metadata” associated with various kinds of communication, but not its content. “Metadata” includes things like the origin and destination of emails and phone numbers dialed from a particular telephone. 

Analysts can use metadata to determine who suspects are communicating with, and to “detect and anticipate” a plot, the official told the Post. “It’s not a concern over what was being collected,” he said. “It’s a question about whether the law was written in a way that allowed the information to be collected in a way that they were collecting it.”

The NSA had been collecting this metadata with court permission for years before the recent briefing.

House Republicans worry that the new development creates a surveillance gap that could impede the government’s ability to keep US citizens safe from terrorist attacks. 

“This is a basic tool we used to have, and it’s now gone,” one intelligence official lamented. “Every day, every week that goes by, there’s one more week of information we’re not collecting.”

Meanwhile, House Democrats seem confident that NSA Director Keith Alexander and the Justice Department will resolve the matter with alacrity.

The crux of the matter is whether the NSA’s data collection methods conform to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was passed in 1978 to eliminate domestic spying abuses. The law was revised in 2008 to broaden the government’s surveillance authority at the request of the Bush administration.


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