NSA can no longer spy on Americans

Cannot collect bulk telephone data; foreigners still under surveillance.

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:38 pm IST

Published - June 02, 2015 01:19 am IST - WASHINGTON:

NSA’s mass surveillance was exposed by Edward Snowden in 2013. A protestoutside U.S. Department of Justice in January 2014. — FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

NSA’s mass surveillance was exposed by Edward Snowden in 2013. A protestoutside U.S. Department of Justice in January 2014. — FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

It was literally a case of “reform by expiration” on Sunday night, when key provisions of the far-reaching U.S.A. Patriot Act, initially introduced after the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001, lapsed without renewal by Congress, and the U.S. National Security Agency effectively lost the authority to conduct bulk telephone data collection on millions of Americans.

While foreigners worldwide, including Indian citizens, are no less likely to be under NSA surveillance for telephonic or Internet communications, a revolt within the Republican Party led by libertarian Rand Paul against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell denied an extension for the Agency’s spying programme.

Section 215

Under Section 215 of the Act, the NSA is permitted to collect and store for five years telephone metadata on millions of Americans and that authority has temporarily evaporated.

Similarly, intelligence authorities’ right to receive a roving wiretap to track terror suspects who frequently change telephones has been rescinded, and they are now required to obtain individual warrants for each new device that the suspect uses.

The third major shift that kicked in at 12:01am on Monday morning was that the government lost a legal provision to deploy surveillance tracking tools against “lone wolf” terror suspects, even though official said that that provision has not been used thus far.

The alternative to the Patriot Act that is getting a strong push from President Barack Obama as well as the House of Representatives is the USA Freedom Act, which does also aim to roll back bulk call metadata collection but could leave the roving wire-tap and lone-wolf tracker provisions in place.


If the USAFA is passed, as it is expected to be during this week, it would represent the first major reform to the NSA’s mass surveillance of global communications since whistleblower and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed the full extent of the spying programmes to the world in 2013.

His exposés, including on U.S. spying on Indian targets that The Hindu exclusively reported on, resulted in a broader debate on the need to balance counterterrorism surveillance with the protection of civil liberties and individual privacy rights.

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