This revelation comes as Congress contemplates renewing or modifying the phone records collection program before the law allowing it expires in June.
Sources told the AP that NSA officials were concerned about the rising cost to monitor “nearly every domestic landline,” while failing to monitor most cell phone calls. They also feared public outrage that could result from information about the program being leaked.
Following the Snowden leaks and resulting controversy, Alexander argued that the program is an essential deterrent to domestic attacks because it allows the NSA and FBI to link American phone numbers to those associated with international terrorists.
In January 2014, President Barack Obama recommended the NSA to limit their phone-tracing measures to requesting records from phone companies only when “needed in terrorism investigations.”
They argue that the NSA can point to one case justifying the phone record collection: A San Diego taxi driver who was convicted of raising $15,000 for a Somali terrorist organization, after being tracked as a result of information obtained through the phone records program.
Nonetheless, Obama’s recommendation ultimately did not become policy.
After examining the NSA, the Justice Department concluded that the measure “would not work without a change in the law.”
Alexander, who left the NSA in 2014, decided to leave the law as is. Under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the program is still legally practiced.