The Corner

What’s Up with the NSA’s Order?

So the National Security Agency (NSA) got a court order directing Verizon to hand over call data. That would seem to be a huge expansion of the agency’s surveillance program. The two most immediate questions: Is it legal? Is it wise?

Let’s start by defining “it.” The order applies only to “meta-data”: the phone number called, time and duration of the call, and where the phone was located when the call was made. It does not require Verizon to let the NSA listen in or record any call. 

The order pertains only to Verizon, which must provide the meta-data every day. Have similar orders been issued to other carriers like AT&T and Sprint? We don’t know. However, it would seem odd to go after Verizon data alone. After all, we have no reason to believe that Verizon is the preferred carrier for terrorists.

At the very least, however, it appears that the NSA has blanket access to the meta-data of all calls — both foreign and domestic — made by Verizon customers between April 25 and July 19 –the date when the FISA court order expires.

The court order seems to be legal. It seems fully consistent with Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. Remember, it doesn’t give the NSA access to the content of the conversations involved — just access to the meta-data. And that data can help “connect the dots” (in this case, phone numbers) in terrorist investigations. 

Yet it is interesting that an administration so eager to separate itself from the policies of its predecessor should have embraced a technique pioneered by its predecessor (collection of meta-data) and taken it to the next level and beyond.

More puzzling is the question of how NSA was authorized to collect information on American citizens standing on American soil. Historically, the NSA has been limited by both law and policy to collecting signals intelligence only on international communications.

Is collecting all this meta-data wise? That seems doubtful, though it’s too early to say for sure.  But what we can say for sure is that this operation merits further investigation and oversight.  That’s the least Congress can do to make sure the liberties of the American people are protected.

— Steven Bucci is director of the Heritage Foundation’s Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies.

Most Popular

White House

Another Warning Sign

The Mueller report is of course about Russian interference in the 2016 election and about the White House's interference in the resulting investigation. But I couldn’t help also reading the report as a window into the manner of administration that characterizes the Trump era, and therefore as another warning ... Read More
Film & TV

Jesus Is Not the Joker

Actors love to think they can play anything, but the job of any half-decent filmmaker is to tell them when they’re not right for a part. If the Rock wants to play Kurt Cobain, try to talk him out of it. Adam Sandler as King Lear is not a great match. And then there’s Joaquin Phoenix. He’s playing Jesus ... Read More
World

What’s So Great about Western Civilization

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays. Dear Reader (Redacted: Harm to Ongoing Matter), One of the things I tell new parents is something that was told to me when my daughter still had that ... Read More
White House

The Mueller Report Should Shock Our Conscience

I've finished reading the entire Mueller report, and I must confess that even as a longtime, quite open critic of Donald Trump, I was surprised at the sheer scope, scale, and brazenness of the lies, falsehoods, and misdirections detailed by the Special Counsel's Office. We've become accustomed to Trump making up ... Read More
U.S.

Supreme Court Mulls Citizenship Question for Census

Washington -- The oral arguments the Supreme Court will hear on Tuesday will be more decorous than the gusts of judicial testiness that blew the case up to the nation’s highest tribunal. The case, which raises arcane questions of administrative law but could have widely radiating political and policy ... Read More