WASHINGTON — A federal court Monday approved the temporary resumption of the National Security Agency's controversial bulk telephone data collection program, despite the fact Congress and President Obama have technically made such collections illegal.
Under pressure from civil liberties groups Congress outlawed the bulk data collection earlier this year as part of its reauthorization of the Patriot Act. And while the administration has indicated it agrees with barring the program, Congress provided them with an additional 180 days to collect the data, even after the program had been rendered illegal.
In his decision, FISA Court Judge Micahel Mosman notes, "this application presents the question whether the recently-enacted [law] … ended the bulk collection of telephone metadata. The short answer is yes. But in doing so, Congress deliberately carved out a 180-day period following enactment in which such collection was specifically authorized."
Mosman seems keenly aware of the odd situation in which he finds himself, wryly opening his order with Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr's famous quote "Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose." "The more things change, the more they stay the same."
Significantly, Mosman also approved a motion by FreedomWorks to become an amici curiae party to the motion, marking the first time the normally secretive FISA court has allowed an outside group to play a role in the process of reviewing data collection requests.
The language authorizing the court to appoint FreedomWorks as an amici curiae is part of a set of transparency rules included in the bill by Sen. Ron Wyden and other proponents of reforming the law.
In a statement, Wyden questioned the need for a resumption of the data collection program. "I see no reason for the Executive Branch to restart bulk collection, even for a few months. This illegal dragnet surveillance violated Americans' rights for fourteen years without making our country any safer. It is disappointing that the administration is seeking to resurrect this unnecessary and invasive program after it has already been shut down. However I am relieved this will be the final five months of Patriot Act mass surveillance, thanks to the passage of the USA Freedom Act. It will take a concerted effort by everyone who cares about Americans' privacy and civil liberties to continue making inroads against government overreach," Wyden said.
John Stanton is a national reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New Orleans. In 2014, Stanton was a recipient of the National Press Foundation’s 2014 Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting of Congress.
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