The Trump administration has signaled in recent weeks that it may seek the permanent renewal of a surveillance law that has, among other things, enabled the National Security Agency to gather and analyze Americans' phone records as part of terrorism investigations, according to five U.S. officials familiar with the matter.
The White House, these officials said, was prepared to issue a public statement calling on Congress to reauthorize in full Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which in the past has been the focus of heated debate over the acceptable bounds of government surveillance. The plan to issue a statement was put on hold, officials said, but it illustrates nonetheless where the administration stands on the contested issue of national security authority.
Section 215 was last revised in 2015 as part of the USA Freedom Act after a former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, exposed how the government was collecting vast quantities of Americans' phone logs to be able to scan them for clues to terrorist plots. This "metadata" denoted the calls' time, date and duration, and who called whom, but did not include the conversations' content. The ensuing uproar led Congress to impose restraints, and last year, the NSA reportedly suspended the program because of technical issues that put Americans' privacy at risk.
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