NSA quietly shutters phone monitoring program rife with glitches

Under the program, the NSA collects call-detail records, referring to metadata that shows who calls whom and at what time of day, but does not include the content of the call or text. (Pixabay)

The National Security Administration (NSA) has shut down a controversial phone monitoring program launched in the wake of 9/11 that logged and analyzed calls and texts among people in the U.S.

According to a report from The New York Times, the program hasn’t been used in months and is set to expire at the end of the year. It’s unclear whether the Trump administration will ask Congress to renew the program.

The initial phone monitoring program was launched by the George W. Bush administration just weeks after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. In 2013, defense contractor Edward J. Snowden famously alerted the media to the program’s existence, sending shock waves throughout the American public. Congress closed that program and replaced it with the U.S.A. Freedom Act of 2015—another phone-monitoring program that’s set to expire at the end of 2019.

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Under the program the NSA collects call-detail records, referring to metadata that shows who calls whom and at what time of day, but does not include the content of the call or text. NSA said it’s been using the program to analyze social connections and networks between terror suspects and associates. To date, no data collected under the program has helped to thwart a terrorist attack.

Initially, operators such as Verizon and AT&T handed over data to NSA officials, NYT reports. But under the U.S.A. Freedom Act, NSA officials are only able to acquire data with a judge’s permission. Over the years, the program has gradually tapered off its data collection, going from collecting billions of records per day to collecting hundreds of millions of records per year.

According to the NYT report, the program has been rife with technical irregularities that forced the agency to purge hundreds of millions of call and text records. In 2018, the NSA was forced to delete the entire database of records it had gathered under the Freedom Act system due to inaccurate data. The NSA has not used the program for six months.

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