NSA To Shut Down Phone Record Program

The controversial phone record program in which the National Security Agency (NSA) collects information about the phone calls of private citizens is set to shut down at 12:01 a.m. on Sunday. The NSA program that has been declared unconstitutional and “almost Orwellian” has long had politicians and citizens at odds. The phone program came to a close due to legislature that passed back in June. The NSA will now have to have a court order and reasonable suspicion to request records from phone companies.

Currently, the NSA phone program collects what is known as meta-data from millions of American’s phone records. The data includes the numbers dialed, when the call was placed, and how long the call took place. All this information is collected without a warrant.

While libertarians and those worried about the civil liberties of Americans are excited to see the NSA program be cancelled, some Republican politicians are claiming that national security is now at risk. Other Republicans like Ted Cruz are taking heat for voting for the legislation that ended the NSA phone record program.

“I believe in the Constitution. I’ve spent my whole life fighting to defend the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, and the federal government has no right to be seizing, collecting and holding the phone metadata of hundreds of millions of law-abiding citizens,” said Cruz at a tele-forum earlier this month. A conservative group with ties to the Koch brothers are running a campaign in Iowa saying Cruz voted against national security and “joined Obama” due to his voting for the restrictions on the NSA phone program according to The Hill.

The USA Freedom Act, the legislation that shut down the NSA’s phone program, has been fought against by some politicians while others refused to vote for it saying it didn’t go far enough. Senator Marco Rubio is one who feels that the legislation has left Americans more vulnerable and he is calling out other politicians for their support. Rubio spoke out at Cruz and his support for NSA restrictions.

“If you have voted to harm those programs and undermine those programs then we need to have a debate about that, because it is a very different view of what the government’s role should be in our national security.”

Ted Cruz supports NSA phone program restrictions.
November 13, 2015 - Ted Cruz speaks at Sunshine Summit. Sen Cruz is taking heat from fellow republicans for his support of NSA restrictions.

Senator Rand Paul, who is by far the most libertarian senator, voted against the USA Freedom Act saying that the NSA restrictions were not enough. Paul staged a 10-hour filibuster over the controversial NSA program back in May, and forced a short expiration of the Patriot Act that allowed for the NSA’s phone program.

Senator Rubio and others, including Senator Tom Cotton and Senator John McCain, tried to pass the NSA reforms back for at least a year through legislation titled the Liberty Through Strength Act, according to The Hill. The legislation did not go through mostly due to the support of NSA restrictions by Republicans and Democrats alike. The White House also voiced support of NSA restrictions.

While some politicians are using the NSA restrictions as a talking point to try and capitalize on the fear of terrorism, the director of National Intelligence James Clapper has said that the restrictions on the NSA phone program are a “reasonable compromise” that “preserves essential intelligence community capabilities.”

Rand Paul caused a short expiration of the Patriot Act but voted against USA Freedom Act saying it didn't restrict NSA enough.
May 21, 2014 - Rand Paul on his way to give filibuster speech that caused a short expiration of the Patriot Act. Paul voted against the USA Freedom Act saying it did not restrict the NSA enough. [Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]

In the 14 years the NSA phone program has existed, it has only been responsible for a single arrest. In 2013, a cab driver was convicted of sending money to a terrorist group in Somalia. The arrest did not stop an active terroristic threat, which critics say proves how ineffective the NSA phone program really is. The new restrictions on the NSA program means that the NSA will, in theory, only be collecting phone information from suspected terrorists and terrorist supporters, versus millions of innocent people.