The National Security Agency is literally counting down the hours until its deadline to stop the bulk collection of information on American phone calls. The agency’s civil liberties and privacy officer, Rebecca Richards, said Wednesday morning that there are about 930 hours left. And yes, she said, “there is a big clock.”
The deadline is 11:59 p.m. on November 29. Richards said the NSA has not yet begun testing is alternate system. She spoke at the Second Annual Cato Surveillance Conference.
The collection of massive amounts of American metadata — who calls who, and how long they talk — is known as the 215 program on account of the section of the Patriot Act the government claimed gave it legal standing.
The program existed in secret for more than a decade, until NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden disclosed its existence in 2013.
Congress, in its first act of rebellion against the surveillance state, forced the NSA to shutter the program in May by failing to agree on a way to extend it.
Two days later, however, the USA Freedom Act reauthorized the program, but ordered that it be phased out by the end of November, to be replaced by one in which the NSA has to request specific records, and explain why.
A federal judge with the top-secret FISA surveillance court officially reinstated the program.
NSA might have even less than 930 hours, should other parts of the federal judiciary block it. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon is considering a request for an injunction.
A federal appeals court ruled in May that the program was illegal but declined to enjoin it.