04:57 GMT14 July 2020
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    Months before Edward Snowden leaked the National Security Agency’s secret program of collecting and storing Americans’ phone records, some NSA officials were proposing an end to the practice arguing that the costs outweighed its counter-terrorism benefits, the Associated Press reports.

    Speaking under condition of anonymity, current and former NSA officials told the AP that the chatter was circulating among top decision makers in 2013, but the proposal did not reach the desk of Gen. Keith Alexander, the former NSA director.

    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.”

    Alexander and other officials agreed with the proposal, but civil liberties activists say it’s unacceptable for the NSA to collect and store any private information belonging American citizens.

    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.

    Tags:
    spying, NSA spying, surveillance, NSA, National Security Agency (NSA), Keith Alexander, Washington, DC, United States
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