Trump administration urges Congress to reauthorize NSA surveillance program

Trump administration urges Congress to reauthorize NSA surveillance program
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The Trump administration is urging Congress to reauthorize the National Security Agency's (NSA) authority to collect phone record information on millions of Americans, according to a letter obtained by The Hill.

Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsHillicon Valley: Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract in court | State antitrust investigation into Google expands | Intel agencies no longer collecting location data without warrant Intelligence agencies have stopped collecting cellphone data without warrants: letter This week: Democrats churn toward next phase of impeachment fight MORE, the departing director of national intelligence (DNI), in a letter to senators dated Wednesday urged Congress to reauthorize all provisions in the USA Freedom Act, a controversial law that is set to expire later this year.

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Top Republicans on the key committees overseeing the reauthorization of the law are likely to follow DNI's lead.

"I write to express the support of the Intelligence Community (IC) and Administration for the permanent reauthorization of the provisions of the USA Freedom Act of 2015 that are currently set to expire in December," Coats wrote in the letter, which was addressed to the top members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senate Intelligence Committee.

"These provisions provide the [intelligence community] with key national security authorities, and we look forward to working with the Congress on their permanent reauthorization," Coats added.

The administration's input comes as Congress braces for a battle over the reauthorization of the USA Freedom Act, which gives the government a broad range of surveillance authorities.

In the letter, Coats confirmed that the NSA has shuttered the call records program, the most contested provision of the law. But he said the government should retain its authority to restart the program if needed.

"The National Security Agency has suspended the call detail records program that uses this authority and deleted the call detail records acquired under this authority," Coats wrote. "This decision was made after balancing the program’s relative intelligence value, associated costs, and compliance and data integrity concerns caused by the unique complexities of using these company-generated business records for intelligence purposes."

"However, as technology changes, our adversaries’ tradecraft and communications habits will continue to evolve and adapt," he added. "In light of this dynamic environment, the Administration supports reauthorization of this provision as well."

The call detail records program allows the government to collect metadata — information like the length of calls, or when information is sent — on phone calls and text messages during terrorism investigations. Privacy activists have long maintained it is possible to glean highly sensitive information from those details.

A coalition of top privacy and civil rights groups in a letter on Wednesday pushed to end the NSA's mass phone data collection program, arguing it poses insurmountable threats to the privacy and civil liberties of millions of people, and called for other "meaningful surveillance reforms" to the law.

Coats is calling for Congress to reauthorize all of the provisions in the law, including those that allow the government to wiretap "lone wolf" terrorists and collect business records during a national security investigation.

A spokesperson for Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinGOP senator wants Violence Against Women Act passage by year end Hillicon Valley: Commerce extends Huawei waiver | Senate Dems unveil privacy bill priorities | House funding measure extends surveillance program | Trump to tour Apple factory | GOP bill would restrict US data going to China Senate Democrats unveil priorities for federal privacy bill MORE (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, confirmed they have received the letter and are reviewing it.

While some lawmakers have already called for the sunset of Section 215 authorities, many of the key players in the congressional debate have not weighed in publicly yet.