The National Security Agency’s controversial phone metadata surveillance program reauthorized under the Patriot Act got an extension until June, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) announced Friday.
According to a joint statement with the Justice Department on Tumblr, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court granted the DNI’s request to reauthorize its mass phone surveillance program under section 215 of the Patriot Act until June 1, when spy programs from the act are set to expire.
The move appears to be a last-ditch effort to make use of the highly disputed program brought to light after the 2013 document leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Snowden’s revelations sparked public outrage and calls for complete reform of U.S. intelligence programs. But there hasn’t been much movement toward policy changes since. President Barack Obama rolled back some of the NSA’s spying power in 2014, saying intelligence agencies could collect phone records but not store them, and that a court order was needed before accessing the database except in true emergencies. Also, any results from querying the database were limited to people who have called or been called by suspected terrorists.
Revised versions of the USA Freedom Act have stalled in Congress, with the Senate refusing to take up the matter late last year. A federal judge for the FISA court reauthorized the NSA’s program in December to keep it afloat until Feb. 27.
Friday’s extension until June 1 is the fifth since the president vowed to reform the program in 2014. The extension could be the last without an act from Congress, otherwise programs under section 215 of the Patriot Act automatically shut down June 1. That deadline will likely spur a privacy debate and could lead to the intelligence reform the public and privacy activists have been calling for. But it’s possible the controversial metadata program could stay alive even without a congressional reboot of the USA Freedom Act, if Obama appeals to the FISA court for another extension.