Surveillance court moving toward renewal of NSA spying program for 6 months

(RT) – The secretive court that oversees US government spying requests has indicated that it will temporarily renew the National Security Agency’s bulk phone records collection authority despite a new reform law that ended the dragnet.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) — often seen as a compliant “rubber
for US government spying requests — released an order on Friday positing that lapsed spying
powers vested in the Patriot Act — which expired without renewal
on June 1 — would not restrict the court from reauthorizing for
six months the phone metadata collection program. The FISC order,
though, is not yet an official revival of the NSA’s surveillance

FISC Judge F. Dennis Saylor wrote that it “has the authority
to grant the applications and issue the requested orders.”

In issuing the order, the FISC also maintained that, at least in
this case, it did not need to consult an “amicus,” or
panel, of privacy advocates created under the USA Freedom Act.

“The statute provides some limited guidance, in that it
clearly contemplates that there will be circumstances where an
amicus curiae is unnecessary (that is, ‘not appropriate’),”

Saylor wrote. “At a minimum, it seems likely that those
circumstances would include situations where the court concludes
that it does not need the assistance or advice of amicus curiae
because the legal question is relatively simple, or is capable of
only a single reasonable or rational outcome.”

Privacy supporters decried the court’s handling of the privacy

“Propriety in the spirit of the USA Freedom Act is when the
decision at hand were to have an impact on the rights of
individuals, not necessarily when the Court conjectures that a
decision is self-evident,”
said Amie Stepanovich, US policy
manager with the digital-rights advocacy group Access, according to the National Journal. “It is
the job of the amicus to raise issues that may not be readily
apparent on first blush, meaning that what first may appear to be
a clear-cut decision actually raises underlying questions. The
Court must respect the presumption of the statute in favor of
appointing the amicus.”

The USA Freedom Act is a law approved by Congress and signed by
President Barack Obama on June 2 to replace Patriot Act spying
provisions with those that would allow bulk phone data collection
through a supposedly targeted basis that must be approved by the
FISC. In this case, private phone companies would be compelled to
offer government spies the sought after metadata, which can
indicate caller location, numbers dialed, length of
conversations, and other information, but not the actual

The USA Freedom Act gave the NSA six months to end the phone
metadata program. Citing the Freedom Act’s provision for a
six-month transition period, the government quickly argued that the NSA needs to restart the
bulk collection program in order to end it.

In a filing to the FISC in early June, the US Department of Justice (DOJ)
requested permission to continue the “bulk production of call
detail records”
for 180 days, arguing that the USA Freedom
Act allows a six-month transition period.

DOJ officials also asserted that the USA Freedom Act extended
Section 215 powers from the Patriot Act through December 15,

Section 215 actually expired on May 31, after the extraordinary
Sunday session of the Senate adjourned without passing the
Freedom Act, partly thanks to the delaying tactics by Senators
Rand Paul (R-KY), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Martin Heinrich (D-NM).
The NSA had to shut down the program by the evening of May 31, to
comply with the law. Senators eventually voted to pass the House-approved text of the USA
Freedom Act on June 2.

Many opponents of government surveillance see the USA Freedom Act
as a timid reform effort that will not adequately address NSA or
other government spying capabilities. Their fears were
exacerbated this week by comments made by former NSA chief
Michael Hayden, who mocked the slow pace of redress following
revelations of mass NSA spying supplied by former intelligence
contractor Edward Snowden two years ago.

Hayden said on Monday: “If somebody would come
up to me and say ‘Look, Hayden, here’s the thing: This Snowden
thing is going to be a nightmare for you guys for about two
years. And when we get all done with it, what you’re going to be
required to do is that little 215 program about American
telephony metadata – and by the way, you can still have access to
it, but you got to go to the court and get access to it from the
companies, rather than keep it to yourself’ – I go: ‘And this is
it after two years? Cool!’”

This piece was reprinted by RINF Alternative News with permission or license.