The NSA almost ended phone spying before Snowden leaks

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The NSA considered shutting down its clandestine call data collection program months before Edward Snowden leaked classified information in 2013. According to a report from the Associated Press, some people inside the agency were questioning the value of the program, believing that its benefits did not justify the costs.

Reportedly, internal critics were concerned with the rising costs of gathering and storing the “to and from” information from domestic landlines. Critics also pointed out the program’s inability to capture most cellphone calls, as well as public outrage if the program were to ever go public. Arguably the biggest criticism, though, was the program’s inability to play a crucial role in the unraveling of terrorist plots, stated the report.

The report, which cited “current and former intelligence officials,” also stated top managers in the agency were already discussing a proposal to shut down the program. However, Snowden’s revelations changed things. Instead, NSA officials justified data collection, defending the program’s effectiveness to Congress and the American public. Sources said that the proposal never made it to the desk of former NSA director Keith Alexander because officials doubted that he would sign off on it.

The argument against the bulk collection of call data was said to have been gaining momentum before the Snowden leaks. Aside from the concerns with costs, the program was also criticized for opening a growing number of loopholes that weakened its effectiveness.

“By 2013, some NSA officials were ready to stop the bulk collection even though they knew they would lose the ability to search a database of U.S. calling records,” the report read.

This new information comes as Congress is set to decide on whether to discontinue or reform the legal basis for the program. Sections 215 and 214 of the Patriot Act, which were first used in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, sunset on June 1. This effectively gives Congress its best shot of instituting changes into the NSA program. Previous attempts, like the USA Freedom Act, failed to move forward in spite of the outrage over the Snowden leaks.

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