The National Security Agency (NSA) in the USA will stop collecting millions of phone records today, and instead implemented more tightly focused surveillance, the Obama administration said on Friday.
The NSA was required by law to end its surveillance program by 11.59pm EST on Saturday, and said it expects to have the new, reduced scope surveillance in place by then, according to the White House.
The move is a victory for privacy advocates and tech companies who have been vocally opposed to broad government surveillance at a time when national security concerns are in the news in the aftermath of the Paris attacks this month.
The the controversial surveillance program by the NSA was exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, and its closure was mandated by a law that was passed earlier this year. It’s probably the largest cutback in spying capabilities since the Sept 11 attacks in 2001.
Under the Freedom Act, the NSA and other law enforcement agencies are no longer able to collect telephone records in bulk in order to detect suspicious activity. The records, known as metadata, show the numbers American citizens are calling and what time the calls are made. They do not however reveal the content of the conversations in question.
Security analysts now have to get a court order in order to request that telecoms companies like Verizon to enable monitoring of call records of certain people or groups for up to six months.
“The act struck a reasonable compromise which allows us to continue to protect the country while implementing various reforms”, said National Security Council spokesman Ned Price.
Metadata that the NSA has collected during the last five years will however be kept for data integrity purposes until February 29th, the White House said. After that, the NSA will purge all of its historic records once any outstanding litigation has been resolved.
Larry Banks is a keen follower of technology and finance. He has worked for a variety of online publications, writing about a diverse range of topics including mobile networks, patents, and Internet video delivery technologies.