2015 June 2

A First Step: Congress Curbs NSA Spying


Congress on this day approved significant limits on the capacity of the federal government to spy on Americans. Passage of the law came after a rancorous battle in both houses of Congress that resulted in a temporary shutdown of surveillance programs at 12:01 a.m. on June 1, 2015. The new law was particularly significant because it represented the first time Congress had limited government spying since enactment of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) on October 25, 1978.

The new law limited the capacity of the government to collect and store “bulk data” of telephone and email communications. Private communications companies can store the data, but the government can only obtain records with a warrant issued by the FISA Court. Additionally, the law requires the secret FISA Court to declassify some of its important decisions, a requirement that provides a new degree of transparency for the court. Finally, non-government individuals will be able to appear before the secret Court and argue for privacy rights in particular cases.

Under the law, the bulk collection of telephone messages by the NSA ended on November 29, 2015.

Most observers credit the change in the mood of Congress toward spying to Edward Snowden, who stole and released to selected news media National Security Agency (NSA) documents revealing massive spying on Americans and violations of the law. The Snowden-related revelations began on June 5, 2015 and continued for many months thereafter.

Learn more about Snowden: Luke Harding, The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man (2014)

Learn more; documents and analysis of the Snowden/NSA documents at the National Security Archive: http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB436/

Watch the acclaimed film about Snowden: Citizenfour (2014)

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