NSA's new surveillance system is nearly operational

NSA's new surveillance system is nearly operational

The National Security Agency (NSA) is on track to end its controversial bulk collection of Americans’ phone records later this month, the spy agency told members of Congress this week.

In a Monday memo, the NSA’s legislative affairs director said the agency “has successfully developed a technical architecture to support the new program” as called for by legislation passed this summer.

That new program is set to go into effect on Nov. 29.

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That system will replace the government’s sweeping collection of phone call records with a process in which NSA officials obtain court orders to access a narrower set of records from private phone companies. The metadata collected by the NSA includes information about the numbers involved in a call, when it took place and how long the call lasted but not details about people’s conversations.

National security hawks who opposed the congressional intelligence reform bill, called the USA Freedom Act, have remained skeptical that the new system will work as well as the old regime. Forcing the spy agency to request information from phone companies could cost valuable time, they worry.   

In September, NSA head Adm. Michael Rogers confirmed to lawmakers that the amount of time to get information under the new system "is probably going to be longer."

Testing of the new program has already begun, the NSA said.

“Through testing and the initial stages of operational use, we will work with the [telephone] providers to address issues that might arise,” the agency said.

The memo was first reported on by Reuters and confirmed to The Hill by a congressional aide. 

On Monday, a federal judge threw up a roadblock for the NSA, ordering it to immediately halt some collection on information and claiming that the phone records program “likely violates the Constitution.” The possibility that a higher court will delay the decision, however, makes it likely that the NSA’s reform will not begin until Nov. 29.