The agency was able to get by without unrestricted access to phone records for years
US Congress' response to all the NSA leaks of the past few months has been, predictably, weak or non-existent. A few members of Congress made a few bold statements, even fewer did anything concrete to try to rein in the obviously out of control agency, but very little has been achieved.Still, it's nice to hear that at least some of them are still trying. Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall have put out a joint statement commenting on the latest declassified documents, made public thanks to an Electronic Frontier Foundation lawsuit, bringing forward a very eloquent point.
"In addition to providing further information about how bulk phone records collection came under great FISA Court scrutiny due to serious and on-going compliance violations, these documents show that the court actually limited the NSA’s access to its bulk phone records database for much of 2009," Wyden and Udall commented.
"The court required the NSA to seek case-by-case approval to access bulk phone records until these compliance violations were addressed," they added.
"In our judgment, the fact that the FISA Court was able to handle these requests on an individual basis is further evidence that intelligence agencies can get all of the information they genuinely need without engaging in the dragnet surveillance of huge numbers of law-abiding Americans," they said.
This is a very important counterargument to the NSA's claims that it needs to scoop up as much data as possible to do its job.
The fact that it was able to operate without any noticeable setbacks of any kind for several years without unfettered bulk access to phone records is proof that the agency can do its job and still abide by the law.
Of course, that won't stop the NSA from again banging on the "but terrorism" drum which, 12 years after 9/11, is still a very effective way of drawing attention from the matter at hand, be it NSA spying on Americans or going to war with Syria.