Ending the NSA’s Massive Phone Spying Program Would Be a Good Start — But There’s a Lot More to Do

We may be one step closer to putting the final nail in the coffin of the National Security Agency’s massive phone records surveillance program, if a New York Times report bears out. Ending this program is a good first step, but as Congress debates expiring Patriot Act provisions this year, it needs to do much more to protect individual rights, including eliminating the phone record authority altogether.

In 2013, Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA had been collecting the phone records of virtually every single American, relying on a twisted interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act. The information collected by the government included who called whom, when, and for how long.

Amid outrage from the public, members of Congress, and a federal appeals court decision finding that the program was unlawful, Congress voted in 2015 to end the nationwide collection of all Americans’ call records and to institute other needed reforms.

But under the newly constituted program, the NSA collected over 600 million records in 2017 alone. Further, the new program has been beset by years-long compliance violations that resulted in the unlawful collection of countless records.

Now, news reports suggest that the NSA may have voluntarily halted the program. The NSA has yet to confirm why, and it may have simply replicated this collection under a different authority.

Even if these reports are true, however, Congress must still act to prevent this program from ever being resurrected. In the past, the NSA has argued that it retains the authority to restart surveillance programs it voluntarily ends. The agency will likely take the same position here. That’s why Congress must completely eliminate this power to prevent this program from ever being resurrected under Section 215 or any other authority.

But this alone is not enough.

Even aside from the call detail records program, the government collects a staggering amount of information under Section 215. Under it, the government claims the authority to collect any “tangible” thing, covering everything from financial records to library records. Despite the 2015 reforms, this collection does not appear to be targeted and narrow. For example, in 2017, investigations of 74 targets resulted in the disproportionate collection of information regarding 87,000 unique phone numbers, email addresses, or other account identifiers.  

Unlike surveillance prior to the Patriot Act, under Section 215, the government can target individuals who are not members of terrorist organizations, affiliated with foreign nations, or suspected of any criminal wrongdoing at all. The government merely has to show that the information it seeks is “relevant” to an ongoing terrorism or intelligence investigation. This extremely low bar leaves ample room for government abuse, evidenced by the fact that for over a decade the government interpreted this standard as permitting the collection of records of nearly everyone in the U.S.

Given this history, Congress should allow Section 215 to expire at the end of this year unless the law can be substantially reformed to prevent rights intrusions. In addition to Section 215, however, Congress must also revisit other surveillance authorities that the government still abuses.

According to transparency reports, the government continues to collect information about tens of thousands of unique accounts under other Patriot Act authorities that were changed in 2015. Congress must pass additional reforms to halt this large-scale surveillance and put in place safeguards to prevent these powers from being used as a tool to target minorities, suppress journalists and critics, or circumvent existing criminal laws.

For example, Congress must adopt procedures that prevent the government from engaging in practices that wrongly target or impact people based on race, religion, national origin, or other protected classes. This is particularly important given the ample evidence of bias in intelligence analyses and practices. For example, recently leaked FBI intelligence assessment suggests that the agency wrongly labels black activists as “extremists,” and media disclosures revealed that the government used FISA to spy on prominent Muslim-Americans who were never charged with committing a crime.

Congress must also strengthen existing First Amendment protections. Section 215 and other Patriot Act authorities prohibit surveillance based “solely” on First Amendment-protected activities. Yet partially redacted intelligence court opinions suggest that these safeguards are being interpreted far too narrowly. The 2015 reforms also did not address concerns that large-scale surveillance would likely sweep in the information of individuals, like journalists, engaged in First Amendment-protected activities.

The lack of these protections is compounded by the fact that there are not enough limits on how federal agencies can access and use information that’s collected. The FBI and other agencies should be prohibited from searching and using this information for purposes unrelated to why it was collected, circumventing existing protections that exist in the criminal context. They must also meet their constitutional obligation to provide notice to individuals when this information is used in criminal proceedings — something that they have denied they have the responsibility to do when using information from Section 215 and other authorities.

There are other significant issues that Congress must also address, including closing Section 702’s backdoor search loophole, which is exploited to warrantlessly spy on individuals in the U.S. Congress also needs to reform the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, in part by requiring more declassification of its opinions, ensuring transparency.

Even if the NSA call records program has ended, that is not enough to protect our rights. Congress must end the call-detail-record authority altogether. In addition, it must take steps to put an end to other abuses under Section 215 and similar surveillance authorities.

View comments (11)
Read the Terms of Use


Can't trust government. See history.


Always question presumed authority. Be smart.


There’s an invisible crime spree that’s been taking place since at least 2001 and there seems to be no cops that truly understand the crime of Cointelpro-style Blacklisting. Based on the government’s own records, it’s likely thousands of innocent Americans have been harmed or destroyed by these tactics (that violate the Federal Criminal Code). “Employment Tampering” is the most dangerous Cointelpro tactic being perpetrated that needs addressing. Former AG John Ashcroft appeared to have a “GOP Enemies List” and used the federal “Material Witness Statute” to falsely imprison his targets (confirmed by a federal appeals court). Many of the Americans he punished were never intended to be called as witnesses. As reported by major newspapers at the time, Ashcroft would go to a person’s employer and force the employer to fire them or push them out but then issued a gag-order (under threat of prison) if the employer told you why you were fired. After that, your livelihood was literally under the control of Ashcroft’s Justice Department. Let’s call it a hypothetical scenario: anyone with that unchecked authority, once they destroy your paycheck, they destroy your life - you may lose your home, lose your spouse, lose your family, lose your dignity and your job history is permanently destroyed. In the computer age, one has to account for gaps in employment but the U.S. Department of Justice refuses to provide official apology letters/explanations to Ashcroft's victims to repair job histories. A federal appeals court issued a harsh reprimand to John Ashcroft but stopped short of appointing a special prosecutor. John Ashcroft claims to be a Christian man. Real Christians own up and apologize!


Americans need to understand how Cointelpro style Blacklisting really works and the chronology. America’s blacklisting tactics devolved from somewhat OVERT to COVERT. Harry S. Truman, for political reasons, in the 1940’s instituted an unconstitutional “Faux Loyalty Oath” that illegally violated America’s official loyalty oath (Article VI of the U.S. Constitution). Instead of the Founding Fathers “indirect oath” (loyalty to the U.S. Constitution and individual liberties), Truman created an ambiguous “direct” loyalty oath to the nation. Essentially any leader could interpret proper loyalty to mean anything they wanted (supporting women’s rights, African-American rights or any protest of anything could be deemed disloyal). This created the foundation that McCarthyism was built upon. McCarthyism was a somewhat OVERT form of blacklisting, supposed disloyal Americans were summoned to appear in front of Congress and publicly humiliated and defamed by a congressional Kangaroo Court hearing on public television. When Senator Joseph McCarthy, the U.S. Justice Department, Hoover’s FBI and other agencies ran out of legitimate suspects, they started preying on Democrats and social liberals instead of real communists. Former WWII correspondent and CBS journalist, Edward R. Murrow, publicly discredited McCarthy and friends on public television in front of millions of American viewers. Once the U.S. Department of Justice, FBI and other agencies were publicly shamed for their disloyal behavior, most blacklisting tactics by the U.S. government went COVERT (which then violated federal criminal laws for government officials and contractors). COVERT also means the vast majority of crime victims, innocent Americans, are not even aware they have been targeted or harmed. If you aren’t aware of why you lost your job, got framed for a crime or framed as a suspect - you can’t file a police report, you can’t obtain help from government-watchdogs and you are robbed of “legal standing” to challenge these crimes in court. It’s far worse than being falsely accused and going to an official real prison (overt justice which can be challenged in court). Covert justice is lifelong and can’t be challenged. The FBI even “engineered” assassinations of U.S. citizens on U.S. soil, tricking local police and prosecutors, into doing the dirty work (ex: Fred Hampton assassination in Chicago). Supposedly the Senator Frank “Church Committee” in Congress ended this practice in the 1970’s. In October of 2001, only one month after 9/11, the national ACLU warned Americans that Bush Attorney General Ashcroft and Congress essentially have created the environment for a “Cointelro On Steroids” far more dangerous in the computer internet age. History has proven the ACLU 100% correct in their warning. Today every state in the United States has unconstitutional blacklisting centers called “Fusion Centers” usually operated by your State Police. These centers were created exclusively for terrorism threats, not regular crime governed by our Bill of Rights. One state targeted 100% of all African-American college students attending all-Black colleges. Another state targeted LGBT Americans. Another state tarted peaceful environmental rights activists. None of these targets had any link to OBL or terrorism. All of the targets had constitutional protections from warrantless searches under our 4th Amendment. All of the targets received life-sentences of government abuse for their non-crimes and non-wrongdoing from COVERT blacklisting. None of the targets can even file a court case to challenge this disloyal behavior. The U.S. Supreme Court needs to step up with a landmark ruling, on the scale of “Marbury v. Madison”, to end this massive covert crime spree! It’s the major loophole in America’s Justice System.


This is happening to me right now. Why would they have no rights? If we are Americans.. where does it say that the government can do "covert blacklisting"? We have no way to fight? My ex husband "nominated me" I believe, via his Dad and brother in law, a mayor and police officer.. .. they can 'nominate" you, then you are surveilled mercislly. They have blacklisted every job opportunity.. they even got me removed from a domestic violence shelter, they have even taken my unemployment benefits. I was a good custodial Mom of my 2 boys,, their Dad an abuser, lost his sons due to DMV , and they "fusion group" have aided in him gettting custody of my sons via ex parte signing over of my kids.. no trial, no invitation.. now they have ordered massive child support.. I can't pay because they have sabotaged my job, my career.. and I am set to go to jail for not paying a child support amount that equaled my income for last year! I made 6 figures, yearly, now last year I made 22K via unemployment and disability. (for PTSD).. they allowed my pharma company to "let me go".. after I turned in my boss for trying to get me to sell drugs off label. The government should be suing that pharma company.. they were already on CIA for off label promotion.. never stopped the practice.. yet instead of going after them.. they let them pay hundreds of thousands in "campaign donations" to the state of Texas. They paid off my Congressman (no history of ever donating to him) they paid off my Moms Congressman (,my company based out of NJ- why Texas politics?) they donated tons of cash to judiciary, homeland security, etc.. in Texas... So I guess in lieu of harming me.. they had to 'donate" to them? They also get Title !V-D funding in the billions paid for by tax payers... US.. when they llegally order child support to a parent.. So, my ex, who had 1.2 million in life insurance on me while secretly planning to harm me.. without my knowledge.. also he pulled a gun on me... we have a huge history of police calls (most after I divorced him).. and they let him be part of this sick surveillance as was my boss at the pharma company... how do I know? My ex can't resist telling my kids my every move.. reporting conversations I had with a neighbor.. etc.. My boss? I suspected their was a listening device in my company car.. and so I "talked to her" to see if I would get a response..
I was let go the next day! This is after illegally trying to terminate me with zero cause... I have an excellent work history.. they had no evidence.. nor did they ever show me any.. they are casing my mail... I had forensics done on my devices... very expensive.. and I have confirmed the FBI level programs running in my home.. they have put me on a "mental health watch list" with zero "mental health" issues.. they even worked with the hospital I was going to for outside counseling for the PTSD... to try and convince me to go to the inpatient hospital (psych) voluntarily... to 'take a break".. (insurance fraud)... I walked in to do a telemed with a doctor.. she then labeled me an alcoholic (I never spoke to her about alcohol) and she labeled me bi-polar ( I met her twice.. and never gave her any reason to think I am bi polar) my pharma job, incidentally, was calling on psychiatrists and psych hospitals.. for schizophrenia/bi polar meds.. and I am very well trained in the meds.. the disease states.. etc. I do NOT have bi polar.. yet they were trying to instutionalize me! I am a productive member of society, a good Mom, and I fear the Illuminati/New World Order... something is happening that should scare all Americans. I am white female, so no race situation.. I am not LGBT community. just an upper middle class, educated, church going good citizen.. Why they want to ruin my life.. cut me off of all friends.. family.. let me be tortured as they humiliate me online in slander campaings (they even have a porn account... with my wedding photo on it, ,my name and credentials)... I have caught them live posting horrific anti-government stuff on facebook I created and they locked me out of.. or their own facebook they made of me and post things to harm me and destroy me... what does the ACLU do? Why is this gross human abuse , major civil rights violation "ok?" I did visit FBI last summer... who told me they don't 'work" civil cases... ok... So, stealing my identitiy... rerouting my mail... harassing me... the 24 CCTV camera system placed in my home (yes and I have this actual system) illegal wiretap by the police found (they use my phone from 10 years ago... let a woman impersonate me and her name is on the number... my name on the caller ID.. and it was found running through a Verizon box outside my home! I have this too.. I ripped all of it out... Verizon Fiber Optics was put in my home without my approval or knowledge... It has been there since 2011...So they watch me naked.. watch me with my boyfriend.. watch my sons come out of the shower.. this is ok??? This is "countelpro on speed!" If they can do this to me... they can do this to ANY American... and It appears to me that this could mean a NWO for sure... why else is it happening? I have the forensics reports with their programs confirmed.. no crimes, no reason at all to suspect me for ANYTHING.. just an average "american family" and no "terrorist" ties.. I feel they are trying to get me in jail for "contempt" in a case that is not even valid as you can't go have a judge just sign over my kids.. for no reason.. and I just follow the fake order??? NO, I am not leaving out anything.. I am a good Mom.. if you look up "mommicide' and the family court corruption.. it is happening at record speed... billions are made from our deaths.. or loss of our kids... courtnap... as they call it... and I get slashed tires... murdered pets... they hack into my navigation of my cars...
The fusion group I know is the heart of my case..as I traced IP back to the local one multiple times.. all printed out.. with their IP.. they will be on my same browser... and I will get a notice that my browser is open somewhere else... traces back to our local fusion group. my surviellance system... in my home.. I have since lost... it was run by a group called SANS Internet in Reston VA.. which is wear many "private sector' groups are for CIA and FBI/NSA.. etc... Americans need to be very afraid... I feel like this is Nazi Germany in the works and dividing families... ruining families so they can divide and counquer... is one of many tactics they are using..

Ms. Gloria Anasyrma

Edward Snowden is a traitor and needs to be brought to trial for his crimes.


For telling people their own government is spying on them? Please go read the fourth amendment.

Ms. Gloria Anasyrma

No, for scurrying off to Russia like the little rat he is.


The aclu could do a good thing and have a roll call for those of us who are aware that we are being surveilled. Run a trend analysis and see what you come up with regarding our experiences. I would've never believed it myself were it not happening to me.


What if your landlords apt managers cash worker. Stole my phone. Can he use that information, for getting a warrant by going over his brother's head j. Aragona. Or what just said was enough retaliation, from my landlord when it comes to my rights as a disabled citizen, with emotional support animal status. That he denied by collecting 20per month pet fee for 9 1/2 years. Clearly that's a violation of elliot Larsen civil right. True I am disabled, but if I don't pay he says I'm gonna get evicted over pet rent. So I kept paying. Brought this before MDCR, currently my docket has a federal number and is being passed thru legislation with an investigations advocate. Currently I am homeless, after the warrant was issued. My question is can they use texts against me if my phone was stolen?


Stay Informed