With a surveillance reform bill stuck in the Senate, the federal court overseeing spy agencies on Friday reauthorized the National Security Agency’s controversial bulk collection of Americans’ phone records.
Reauthorization from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) allows the NSA to continue to warrantlessly collect “metadata” in bulk about people’s phone calls. The records contain information about which numbers people called, when and how long they talked, but not the actual content of their conversations.
“Given that legislation has not yet been enacted, and given the importance of maintaining the capabilities of the Section 215 telephony metadata program, the government has sought a 90-day reauthorization of the existing program,” the Justice Department and Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in a joint statement, referring to the section of the Patriot Act that authorizes the program.
The House passed a bill to end the bulk collection program earlier this year, and instead allow the federal government to search for specific records in phone companies’ databases with a court order. Privacy advocates balked, however, warning that the legislation was too broad and would have allowed the NSA to conduct searches for every number in a certain area code, for instance, or every Verizon subscriber.