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With the expiration of the Patriot Act on June 1, it seemed like a major victory had been achieved for privacy, and the NSA mass surveillance had been reined in. Bulk collection of phone records by the NSA came to an end the same day the act expired, but it seems it was just a temporary reprieve. A recent ruling by a secret court paves the way to restart the NSA’s bulk data collection program.

A day after the Patriot Act expired, the USA Freedom Act was passed, which greatly undercut the privacy victory brought about by the expiration of the Patriot Act. The USA Freedom Act reauthorized many of the provisions of the Patriot Act, but it did also bring in some minor reforms. Notably, it would significantly alter the NSA’s collection of phone records, by placing the burden on telecommunication companies to collect and store the records, and the NSA could only obtain specific records by court order. However, the law did contain a provision to allow the current surveillance program to continue for a 6 month transitional period.

While this loophole would seem to allow the bulk collection of phone records by the NSA for a 6 month period, there was one little snag: The Second Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled that the bulk collection of phone records was illegal because it was never explicitly authorized by the Patriot Act in the first place. In an entirely predictable move, the Obama administration took the matter to FISC, the rubber stamp court created by Congress to approve surveillance requests.

FISC ruled that the bulk collection of phone records by the NSA would be allowed to continue for the next 6 months, since that was clearly the intention of Congress when passing the USA Freedom Act. Regarding the previous ruling by the Second Circuit Court that the NSA’s actions had always been illegal, FISC “respectfully disagreed” and stated that Second Circuit rulings are not binding on FISC. With this ruling, the NSA is ready to restart its mass collection of phone records.

Do you think the bulk collection of phone records actually end after 6 months, or will it just be delayed further? Leave your comments below.

Max Michael

Senior Writer

I’m a technology reporter located near the Innovation District of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.