Surveillance court extends NSA's phone records collection

The program was extended for five months as it winds down

A U.S. surveillance court has extended a controversial telephone records dragnet while the National Security Agency works to wind down the program on orders from Congress.

Congress voted in June to rein in the NSA's mass collection of U.S. telephone records, but the USA Freedom Act allowed for a six-month transition away from the program. On Monday, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved an FBI application to continue the records collection program until December.

"Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose (the more things change, the more they stay the same), well, at least for 180 days," FISC Judge Michael Mosman wrote in the approval.

The "short answer is yes" to legal questions about whether the USA Freedom Act ended bulk collection of U.S. phone records, but "Congress deliberately carved out a 180-day period following the date of enactment in which such collection was specifically authorized," he wrote.

Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, blasted the judge for extending the program.

"I see no reason for the executive branch to restart bulk collection, even for a few months," Wyden, a surveillance critic, said in a statement. "This illegal dragnet surveillance violated Americans' rights for fourteen years without making our country any safer."

Wyden said he is "relieved," however, that the program will end after five months. "It will take a concerted effort by everyone who cares about Americans' privacy and civil liberties to continue making inroads against government overreach," he added.

The National Journal first reported the FISC's approval of the collection program's extension.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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Tags telecommunicationsecurityRon WydenU.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance CourtU.S. National Security AgencyMichael MosmanU.S. CongressgovernmentprivacyU.S. FBI

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