Trump Considers Extending Warrantless Wiretapping Permanently

The Trump Administration is actively contemplating renewing US warrantless wiretapping. This renewal is said to be permanent.

The Trump Administration is contemplating another way of cracking down on civil rights. Previously, the administration found themselves pushing for a crackdown on security. Now, the administration is opening a new front on the war on civil rights. This time, he wants to renew warrantless wiretapping permanently.

The report comes from The New York Times which cites a letter they had obtained. From the report:

In a letter to Congress delivered on Thursday and obtained by The New York Times, the administration urged lawmakers to make permanent the legal authority for the National Security Agency to gain access to logs of Americans’ domestic communications, the USA Freedom Act. The law, enacted after the intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden revealed the existence of the program in 2013, is set to expire in December, but the Trump administration wants it made permanent.

The unclassified letter, signed on Wednesday by Dan Coats in one of his last acts as the director of National Intelligence, also conceded that the N.S.A. has indefinitely shut down that program after recurring technical difficulties repeatedly caused it to collect more records than it had legal authority to gather. That fact has previously been reported, but the administration had refused to officially confirm its status.

“The National Security Agency has suspended the call detail records program that uses this authority and deleted the call detail records acquired under this authority,” Mr. Coats wrote. “This decision was made after balancing the program’s relative intelligence value, associated costs, and compliance and data integrity concerns caused by the unique complexities of using these company-generated business records for intelligence purposes.”

Complicating matters, three other surveillance authorities primarily used by the F.B.I. are also set to expire in mid-December. They include provisions that let investigators get court orders to collect business records relevant to a national security investigation, wiretap “lone wolf” terrorists without links to a foreign power, and keep wiretapping someone suspected of being a spy or a terrorist who switches phone lines in an effort to evade surveillance.

Mr. Coats’s letter said the administration supported making those three provisions permanent as well, rather than merely subjecting them to another extension of several years, as Congress has previously done.

Stopping terrorism has been a long-standing excuse for the elimination of American privacy rights. Unfortunately, there is little evidence that this dragnet surveillance has made American’s any safer. One notorious example came in 2008 when then Attorney General Mukasey claimed that 9/11 occurred because of a so-called “missed call”. The argument was used to try and push for dragnet surveillance. That claim was then debunked as being completely false.

Of course, US warrantless wiretapping has been one of America’s longest running privacy stories. In 2008, towards the end of the notorious Bush Administration, Congress passed warrantless wiretapping laws 293 to 129. The passage was in response to the revelation that as of 2006, AT&T created a so-called “splitter room” where all data flowing through its network was copied and that copy was sent to the National Security Agency (NSA). in response, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) sued AT&T for violating American privacy. The law that was passed granted major telecoms legal immunity from lawsuits.

There is, of course, one caveat to those laws. Every few years, those dragnet surveillance laws needed to be renewed every few years. So, that lead to campaigns to demand that congress not renew those laws. In the years since then, the government kept renewing the privacy busting laws.

Now, 13 years later, it appears that the Trump Administration is going to take this dragnet surveillance to the next level by making the renewal permanent. This contemplation sparked quite a response from the EFF who is calling on the American people to tell the administration to not permanently renew this surveillance. From the EFF:

For years, the government relied on Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act to conduct a dragnet surveillance program that collected billions of phone records documenting who a person called and for how long they called them—more than enough information for analysts to infer very personal details about a person, including who they have relationships with, and the private nature of those relationships.

In 2015, a federal appeals court held that NSA’s interpretation of Section 215 to conduct this surveillance dragnet was “unprecedented and unwarranted.” Despite the passage of the 2015 USA Freedom Act, which gave the government more limited authority to conduct the CDR program, the government continued to collect hundreds of millions of records. And in 2018, the NSA was compelled to delete millions of records after it learned that some of the data had been collected from phone service providers without legal authority or authorization.

If the program does not help ensure the safety of Americans, cannot stay within the law, and violates our privacy, then why should Congress reauthorize it? After all, as of now, the NSA isn’t even using it.

This December, rather than permanently renew the authorization that allows the NSA to use an invasive program, it’s important that we push Congress to end the Call Details Record program once and for all and enact other important reforms.

One question might be, “why consider this now?” Well, one thing to consider is the fact that the next US general election is scheduled for November 3, 2020. One longstanding strategy for governments is to pass undesirable laws “at the 11th hour” right before the election happens. Therefore, politician’s are less likely to deal with the consequences of passing hugely unpopular laws because it’s a new government now. All that is in the past and they need to focus on looking forward now. While this strategy is not exclusive to the US, it has been known to happen quite a lot in the country. Either way, if an 11th hour push is going to happen, it actually makes sense that the planning stages are taking place now.

Either way, privacy fans are no doubt disappointed that the law they thought might be finally getting reigned in might become more powerful then ever before. In an already nasty political scene in the US, it’s probably just one more issue that will be making for an ugly election season next year.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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