Edward Snowden’s leaks almost made the NSA halt its mass surveillance program of collecting Americans’ call records, according to an exclusive report from the Associated Press.
In fact, once news spread about the extent to which the US government was collecting civilians’ personal data, a widespread internal debate began about whether or not to kill the controversial program.
This campaign made it to “top managers” but never reached then-NSA director General Keith Alexander. Unnamed sources talking to the AP said they doubted General Alexander would have approved of axing the program.
Though the program was never actually terminated, this report indicates internal turmoil over the Snowden revelations. Many critics believed the surveillance efforts to be ineffective and a PR nightmare for the agency.
“The system was not capturing most mobile phone calls, and program was not central to unravelling terrorist plots,” the AP writes, citing anonymous officials.
This internal campaign to halt the call-collection program reportedly came to a head in 2013. Many agents were said to have lobbied heavily to halt it. A similar movement succeeded in 2011, when the NSA halted its email metadata collection program, citing “cost-benefit calculations.”
Additionally, a presidential task force reportedly analysed the NSA’s call collecting program and also recommended ending it.
This news comes as the US is turning its attention toward cybersecurity and privacy. For example, a portion of the Patriot Act is set to expire June 1. This section gave the government unprecedented power to spy and collect data on citizens. Now politicians and privacy activists alike are rallying to either renew or reform the clause. In this vein, numerous tech giants including Apple and Google signed a letter demanding government surveillance reform.
Moreover, politicians are pushing for new legislation that would formalise how companies handle data exchanges. This follows a slew of hacks of private companies, which resulted in customers’ personal data landing in the hands of global cyber criminals.
The current bills are under consideration have serious privacy implications. Many activists have balked at the new cybersecurity bills that would allow for more direct information exchanges between private companies and intelligence agencies like the NSA.
This NSA revelation shows that the privacy-security debate goes beyond activists and into intelligence officials’ cordoned-off quarters.
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