The Obama administration will end the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk collection of Americans’ phone records if Congress is unable to reauthorize an expiring provision, the White House confirmed to The Hill.
“If Section 215 sunsets, we will not continue the bulk telephony metadata program,” National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
Section 215 of the Patriot Act authorizes the NSA’s collection of phone “metadata,” such as records about who calls whom and when, but not the actual content of their conversations. It is set to expire on June 1 unless Congress acts.While top-ranking officials at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence had previously said that there would be no backup plan in the event of congressional inaction, the new statement, which was first obtained by Reuters, is the first time the White House has made clear that the program will wholly end if lawmakers fail to move forward.
The statement also clarifies that the administration will not seek to pursue a legal loophole to continue the phone records collection.
In November, The New York Times revealed the existence of a legal provision allowing for ongoing investigations to continue regardless of congressional authorization. If the phone records collection program is viewed to be one continuous investigation — as opposed to multiple individual ones — it might be allowed to continue, some lawyers have speculated.
When the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court last month renewed the records collection program for three months, it also seemed to leave the door open for the possibility that it could be continued even if Congress did not act.