The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has authorized a 90-day extension to the Section 215 bulk telephone collection program used by the National Security Agency, giving the agency through the end of February to run the program in the absence of legislation establishing a new authority.
Several months ago, President Barack Obama ordered an end to the Section 215 collection, as it had been carried out for years, saying that the government should no longer hold the untold millions of phone records collected under the program. Instead, rather than the government periodically collecting and storing those records, the phone companies would instead keep control of the data and the NSA would have the ability to query them under specific limitations.
On Monday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence revealed that the administration had applied for a 90-day extension to the existing Section 215 authority, and that the FISC had approved the request, extending the authority through Feb. 27.
“The Administration welcomes the opportunity to work with the new Congress to implement the changes the President has called for. Given that legislation has not yet been enacted, and given the importance of maintaining the capabilities of the telephony metadata program, the government has sought a 90-day reauthorization of the existing program, as modified by the changes the President directed in January,” a statement from the Office of the DNI and the Office of the Attorney General said.
“Consistent with prior declassification decisions and in light of the significant and continuing public interest in the telephony metadata collection program, DNI James R. Clapper declassified the fact that the government filed an application with the FISC to reauthorize the existing program for 90 days, and that the FISC issued an order approving the government’s application. The order issued on December 4, 2014, expires on February 27, 2015.”
The surveillance authorized by Section 215 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act has been at the center of the controversy over NSA surveillance efforts for the better part of two years, since the first revelation of the collection came out. However, in the months that followed the revelation, the Section 215 collection has been somewhat lost in the shuffle among the disclosures of the PRISM program, the NSA’s tapping of data center links and other collection programs.
Congress is supposed to be working on a new piece of legislation that would replace the Section 215 authority and allow the government to get individual orders from the FISC to conduct collection on specific phone numbers. But that hasn’t come to pass as of yet, so the government went to the FISC with the extension request.
The statement from the DNI and AG said that the extension request and order will be declassified at some point.