Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Between 2015 and 2019, the NSA’s Domestic Phone and Text Monitoring Program Produced Exactly One Usable Lead

Charlie Savage, New York Times:

A National Security Agency system that analyzed logs of Americans’ domestic phone calls and text messages cost $100 million from 2015 to 2019, but yielded only a single significant investigation, according to a newly declassified study.

Moreover, only twice during that four-year period did the program generate unique information that the F.B.I. did not already possess, said the study, which was produced by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board and briefed to Congress on Tuesday.

“Based on one report, F.B.I. vetted an individual, but, after vetting, determined that no further action was warranted,” the report said. “The second report provided unique information about a telephone number, previously known to U.S. authorities, which led to the opening of a foreign intelligence investigation.”

The surveillance program responsible for expending an average of $50 million per lead — only one of which was useful — was created through the passage of the stupidly named USA FREEDOM Act. That act was passed after Edward Snowden leaked a trove of documents exposing the NSA’s then-secret surveillance programs affecting basically everyone around the world. It is unlikely that such a bill would have been possible without Snowden’s disclosures.

At any rate, the Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ensuring Effective Discipline Over Monitoring Act of 2015 expires in a couple of weeks, and it’s worth asking if it makes sense to reauthorize programs like these. It’s also something to keep in mind as U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr fantasizes about other ways to ruin privacy worldwide.