- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Democratic members of the Senate Intelligence Committee sought details Tuesday on the status of the National Security Agency’s controversial phone data collection program.

In a letter addressed to NSA Director Paul M. Nakasone, the committee’s half-dozen Democrats requested an update concerning the agency’s collection of phone data as authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.

“We write to urge that you provide a public description, consistent with protection of sources and methods, of the current status of the call detail record (CDR) program,” they wrote.

NSA has provided no public updates about the program since June, when the agency said that unspecified “technical irregularities” has resulted in the collection of several years’ worth of records outside the scope of its authority, the Democrats noted.

Questions about the status of the program have swelled since, however, especially after a Republican congressional aide said the effort was quietly suspended later that year.

“A public status report will resolve the current confusion, demonstrate the NSA’s commitment to transparency and inform Congress’s deliberations about the possible reauthorization of the program later this year,” wrote the committee members.

The letter was signed by Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon, Mark Warner of Virginia, Dianne Feinstein of California, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Kamala Harris of California and Michael Bennet of Colorado.

NSA has received the letter, is in the process of reviewing it and will respond accordingly, the agency said in response to an inquiry from The Washington Times.

Previously cloaked in secrecy, the NSA’s program for collecting call detail records, or metadata, was first revealed in 2013 through the release of classified documents leaked to the media by Edward J. Snowden, a former intelligence contractor. Congress subsequently reined in the program through passage of the USA Freedom Act in 2015, though both that bill and the NSA’s current program will expire in December unless reauthorized on Capitol Hill.

Luke Murry, a national security adviser to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, said during an interview released in early March that the NSA had abandoned the program six months earlier.

“We are in a deliberative process right now,” Mr. Nakasone said in the aftermath of the interview. “We’ll work very, very closely with the administration and Congress to make recommendations on what authority should be reauthorized.”

Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, recently indicated he supported keeping the program in place.

“If we have technical problems or challenges that NSA has to take into account, that’s OK. … It’s not something we easily shelve,” he said last month.

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