Nearly six years ago, Edward Snowden exposed the National Security Agency's covert collection of millions of Americans' phone and text records; the White House defended it as a critical tool in the fight against terrorism. Now, a new White House may be done with the program. The New York Times reports Luke Murry, who works as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's national security adviser, said during a weekend podcast recorded by Lawfare that it's been six months since the system was employed and that the White House may decline to ask Congress to extend its legal authority, which expires in December. "I'm actually not certain that the administration will want to start that back up," he said, citing both its disuse and technical problems revealed last year that forced a mass deletion of records.
The Wall Street Journal offers a timeline, explaining that the program begun under President George W. Bush was ended by Congress following Snowden's 2013 disclosure; the Freedom Act of 2015 that took its place still gave the government access to these records but curtailed their bulk collection of them, which had clocked in at billions of records per day. Still, in 2017 the NSA collected 534 million records. A rep for McCarthy's office said Murray's comments were not made "on behalf of administration policy or what Congress intends to do on this issue." Still, as privacy and security experts had been readying themselves for a battle over the fate of the program, the knowledge that the program isn't even being used "changes the entire landscape of the debate," says the policy director for Demand Progress. "The question becomes, 'Why restart it?' rather than whether to turn it off." (More NSA stories.)