NSA Claims That It Has Stopped Collecting Bulk Domestic Email Records

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The NSA revelations of the past few weeks have focused heavily on telephone metadata, records of telephone calls made both domestically and internationally. But under George Bush, NSA also collected records of domestic email traffic. This was supposedly a temporary program started in the wake of 9/11, but it continued for years and eventually led to the now-famous hospital room rebellion led by James Comey in 2004.

Because of the DOJ rebellion, the program was shut down for a while, but was then restarted under FISA authority. So is this metadata still being collected? According to a secret inspector general’s report obtained by Glenn Greenwald and Spencer Ackerman, it continued throughout the Bush administration and then for a couple of years into the Obama administration. But it’s since been halted:

“The internet metadata collection program authorized by the Fisa court was discontinued in 2011 for operational and resource reasons and has not been restarted,” Shawn Turner, the Obama administration’s director of communications for National Intelligence, said in a statement to the Guardian.

“The program was discontinued by the executive branch as the result of an interagency review,” Turner continued. He would not elaborate further.

Needless to say, an official denial like this should be taken with a grain of salt. Turner says here that “the program authorized by the FISA court” has been discontinued, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that internet metadata on U.S. persons is no longer being collected. Maybe it’s simply being collected via a different program. Turner was carefully noncommital about that.

And even if domestic email records aren’t being collected any longer, it would be nice to know why. “Operational and resource reasons” doesn’t tell us much. Was it really too expensive? Was it ineffective? Did the president become disturbed by it? We don’t know.

The IG report is here. Marcy Wheeler has some notes about the report here.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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