Privacy advocates have scored a major victory this Sunday as the National Security Agency of the United States finally shuts down its en masse surveillance program that has left many of its own citizens vulnerable to invasions of privacy. But though the new Freedom Act does curtail the NSA’s powers, it of course does not completely nip it in the bud. Instead of bulk spying, the agency will have to target specific people or groups which they can then monitor for months, of course with a court order and the cooperation of involved telecommunications companies.
After the revelations dumped by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the country’s lawmakers have been pressured to put an end to the agency’s, as well as the government at large, almost limitless power endowed on it the Patriot Act after the tragic attacks of 9/11. That finally happened last June, when Congress passed the USA Freedom Act, which, among other things, finally ended the NSA’s bulk harvesting of phone metadata.
The metadata that the NSA collected didn’t actually contain actual phone conversations, which would have required a different kind of warrant. Under the Patriot Act, however, the NSA had almost unfettered access to data like who citizens are calling and when. For many, this are enough to be considered an invasion of their constitutional rights. For the government, it’s a necessary sacrifice for national security.
Advocates’ fight for privacy is far from over. Although the NSA will cease its bulk surveillance activities, the records it has gathered for nearly five years will remain intact until February next year. This is for the purpose of “data integrity”, wherein only chosen technical personnel will have access to the database to ensure that the records comply with the Freedom Act, which also means trying to retain what they can, as long as the new law allows it.
For some lawmakers, the ending of this NSA power couldn’t have come at a worse time. The recent attacks in Paris, for which ISIS has taken responsibility, has seemingly underlined the need for even greater surveillance. Republican lawmakers wanted to delay the implementation of the Freedom Act’s provisions, but considering the deadline as well as the upcoming 2016 elections, that might not be possible for at least a while.