The controversial surveillance program gathers information on who, when, and how long people are talking on their phones, but not the actual content of the calls. A White House source characterized it differently to Fox News, saying that the NSA recommended a “suspension” of the program.
Timothy Edgar, who served as the intelligence community’s deputy of civil liberties under former President George W. Bush and also advised former President Barack Obama on privacy and cybersecurity, said that the NSA is abandoning the program because it simply doesn’t work.
“Really it was because the lack of effectiveness. This program never caught any bad guys, over almost 20 years in existence,” he said on FOX Business’ “Kennedy” Thursday.
This is a policy reversal for the intelligence agency. Whistleblower Edward Snowden first revealed the metadata collection program in 2013, and the NSA justified it at the time by saying it is essential to national security. However, partly due to the controversy after Snowden’s disclosures, Congress passed the USA Freedom Act in 2015, which replaced the NSA’s bulk collection program with a scaled-back version under which records were collected by telephone companies.
Edgar said that this change actually contributed to the program’s downfall.
“By allowing them to gather only some of the information, it actually made the program a little more complicated, and they messed it up. They collected information they weren’t supposed to,” he said. “And what they’ve really done is they’ve decided it’s just not worth it. It’s not doing what we want it to do for national security. It’s costing us a lot of time and energy and hassle to try to deal with the mistakes. We’re going to tell Congress we don’t want to deal with this program anymore.”
Edgar also said this is a sign that the NSA is becoming more transparent with the American public.
“The NSA has tried to be a lot more transparent in the last few years. They’ve tried to admit mistakes like this one, and let us know about them, and they should be applauded for that,” he said. “We know how much data they collected under this program for example – something we never knew before.”