Today’s the Day the NSA’s Permission to Collect Verizon Metadata Runs Out

The NSA’s legal ability to collect Verizon metadata expires today, but what happens next nobody knows

Update, 4:48 p.m.: The FISA court renewed the government’s authority to collect this data once again, according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

It’s been just over a month since the documents leaked by former CIA contractor Edward Snowden kicked off a heated public discussion of the National Security Agency, PRISM, metadata and the digital age practices of spy agencies around the world. One of the first revelations supplied by Snowden was the news that the U.S. government, through the NSA, was collecting the metadata of every call being made on Verizon’s network. (The New York Times has a good explanation of metadata.) A court order given by the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, says the Guardian, “granted the order to the FBI on April 25, giving the government unlimited authority to obtain the data for a specified three-month period ending on July 19.”

Well, today is July 19. That means the NSA’s “unlimited authority” to collect telephone call metadata from Verizon has run out. So now what?

We don’t really know, says the Guardian: no one in the government, from the White House to the NSA to FISA, is saying whether the Verizon order will be renewed or modified or extended in some way.

On Thursday, the administration would not answer a question first posed by the Guardian six days ago about its intentions to continue, modify or discontinue the Verizon bulk-collection order. The White House referred queries to the Justice Department. “We have no announcement at this time,” said Justice Department spokesman Brian Fallon. The NSA and office of the Director of National Intelligence did not respond to questions..

A spokesman for the Fisa court, Sheldon Snook, said the court “respectfully declines to comment”.

The way the Verizon court order works, says the Economist, is that it has been the subject of three-month rolling renewals.

Meanwhile, digital rights groups are responding to the ongoing discussion of the NSA’s data collection activities, which, as was learned from Snowden’s leaked documents, extend far beyond Verizon. TIME:

The largest Internet companies in the United States have joined forces with top civil liberties groups to call on the White House and Congress to increase the transparency surrounding the government’s controversial National Security Agency surveillance programs. Apple, Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft and Twitter are among the tech giants that have signed a letter to the feds, asking for the right to disclose more information about national security data requests. Notably absent are the nation’s largest phone companies, including AT&T and Verizon Wireless, which have remained silent about their participation in the government’s snooping program.

Google in particular, says CNET, is looking into encrypting its users data, “a privacy-protective move that could curb attempts by the U.S. and other governments to gain access to users’ stored files.” (Google would still need to comply with legal court orders for access to data, though, so what real effect this would have is unclear.)

And, the ongoing debate over the NSA and FISA and PRISM have fueled a number of political and legal challenges against U.S. spying programs, which the Christian Science Monitor goes into it much more detail.

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