The secret court that oversees the nation’s intelligence activities renewed its approval of the National Security Agency’s telephone-records program on Friday, granting the government a new three-month window to collect data on all Americans’ phone calls.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s office announced the court’s ruling in a statement, though officials didn’t make the ruling itself public, saying it was going through declassification procedures.
The decision marks the 36th time the program has been approved by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
“It is the administration’s view, consistent with the recent holdings of the United States District Courts for the Southern District of New York and Southern District of California, as well as the findings of 15 judges of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court on 36 separate occasions over the past seven years, that the telephony metadata collection program is lawful,” Shawn Turner, spokesman for Mr. Clapper, said.
Last month a federal judge in the District of Columbia ruled that the NSA’s phone-records program was likely unconstitutional, but another federal judge in New York concluded the opposite. The Obama administration has said it is appealing the adverse ruling.
In his statement Friday, Mr. Turner said the Obama administration is willing to consider changes to the NSA program “while still maintaining its operational benefits.”
Under the NSA program, the agency collects the time, duration and parties involved in most calls placed within the U.S. The agency stores that data for five years, but says it doesn’t query the data unless it is investigating a specific terrorism case, when it delves into the data to see who a suspect is calling, who those associates are calling, and who that second round of associates is calling.
A White House review, released last month, was harshly critical of the program, saying the NSA shouldn’t store the data but rather should leave it with telephone companies, only accessing the data when analysts have a specific articulable reason. The White House review was also critical of the secret court that has repeatedly upheld the NSA’s snooping program, saying the judges could benefit from having an adversarial process and citizens should have an advocate to argue their interests to the court.