NSA to shut down bulk phone surveillance programme by today

Washington, November 28

The US National Security Agency (NSA) will end its daily vacuuming of millions of Americans’ phone records by Sunday and replace the practice with more tightly targeted surveillance methods, the Obama administration said on Friday.

As required by law, the NSA will end its wide-ranging surveillance programme by 11:59pm Saturday and expects to have the new, scaled-back system in place by then, the White House said.

The transition is a long-awaited victory for privacy advocates and tech companies wary of broad government surveillance at a time when national security concerns are heightened in the wake of the Paris attacks earlier this month.

It comes two-and-a-half years after the controversial programme was exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The move, mandated by a law passed six months ago, represents the greatest reduction of US spying capabilities since they expanded dramatically after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Under the Freedom Act, the NSA and law enforcement agencies can no longer collect telephone calling records in bulk in an effort to sniff out suspicious activity. Such records, known as ‘metadata’, reveal which numbers Americans are calling and what time they place those calls, but not the content of conversations.

Instead analysts must now get a court order to ask telecommunications companies like Verizon Communications to enable monitoring of call records of specific people or groups for up to six months.

Some Republican lawmakers want to preserve bulk collection until 2017, citing the November 13 Paris attacks in which 130 people died. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the killings.