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

PC Culture

Hate-Crime Hoaxes Reflect America’s Sickness

On January 29, tabloid news site TMZ broke the shocking story that Jussie Smollett, a gay black entertainer and progressive activist, had been viciously attacked in Chicago. Two racist white men had fractured his rib, poured bleach on him, and tied a noose around his neck. As they were leaving, they shouted ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Strange Paradoxes of Our Age

Modern prophets often say one thing and do another. Worse, they often advocate in the abstract as a way of justifying their doing the opposite in the concrete. The result is that contemporary culture abounds with the inexplicable — mostly because modern progressivism makes all sorts of race, class, and ... Read More
PC Culture

Fake Newspeople

This week, the story of the Jussie Smollett hoax gripped the national media. The story, for those who missed it, went something like this: The Empire actor, who is both black and gay, stated that on a freezing January night in Chicago, in the middle of the polar vortex, he went to a local Subway store to buy a ... Read More
U.S.

White Progressives Are Polarizing America

To understand how far left (and how quickly) the Democratic party has moved, let’s cycle back a very short 20 years. If 1998 Bill Clinton ran in the Democratic primary today, he’d be instantaneously labeled a far-right bigot. His support for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Defense of Marriage Act, ... Read More
World

Ilhan Omar’s Big Lie

In a viral exchange at a congressional hearing last week, the new congresswoman from Minnesota, Ilhan Omar, who is quickly establishing herself as the most reprehensible member of the House Democratic freshman class despite stiff competition, launched into Elliott Abrams. She accused the former Reagan official ... Read More
Elections

One Last Grift for Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders, the antique Brooklyn socialist who represents Vermont in the Senate, is not quite ready to retire to his lakeside dacha and so once again is running for the presidential nomination of a party to which he does not belong with an agenda about which he cannot be quite entirely ... Read More
PC Culture

Merciless Sympathy

Jussie Smollett’s phony hate-crime story could have been taken apart in 24 hours, except for one thing: Nobody wanted to be the first to call bullsh**. Who will bell the cat? Not the police, and I don’t blame them. Smollett is a vocal critic of President Donald Trump who checks two protected-category ... Read More