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

Elections

What Do Republican Voters Want?

The latest entry in the post-Trump conservatism sweepstakes was Marco Rubio’s speech at the Catholic University of America in early November. The Florida senator made the case for a “common-good capitalism” that looks on markets in the light of Catholic social thought. “We must remember that our nation ... Read More
Books

The Houellebecqian Moment

We are living in the imagination of Michel Houellebecq. The bête noire of French literature has spent decades deploring the erosion of Western mores that he believes resulted from the sexual revolution of the 1960s. His last novel, Submission, revolved around the election of a theocratic Muslim to the French ... Read More
Culture

‘Epstein Didn’t Kill Himself’

It was just one more segment to fill out the hour, and thereby fill the long 24 hours of Saturday’s cable news on November 2. Or so it seemed. Navy SEAL Mike Ritland was on the Fox News program Watters World to talk to Jesse Watters about trained German shepherds like the one used in the raid that found ... Read More
White House

Impeachment Woes and DACA Throes

This excerpt is from episode 176 of The Editors. Charlie: Yesterday was the day on which the rain stopped and the sun hid behind the clouds and the eyes of the nation turned in unison toward Capitol Hill for the first day of public hearings in the impeachment of Donald Trump. The results of that first day were ... Read More