Disputed NSA phone program shut down a system that analyzes.
The National Security Agency has quietly shut down a system that analyzes logs of Americans’ domestic calls and texts, according to a senior Republican congressional aide, halting a program that has touched off disputes about privacy and the rule of law since the Sept. 11 attacks.
The agency has not used the system in months, and the Trump administration might not ask Congress to renew its legal authority, which is set to expire at the end of the year, according to the aide, Luke Murry, the House minority leader’s national security adviser.
In a raw assertion of executive power, President George W. Bush’s administration started the program as part of its intense pursuit for Qaeda conspirators in the weeks after the 2001 terrorist attacks, and a court later secretly blessed it. The intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden disclosed the program’s existence in 2013, jolting the public and contributing to growing awareness of how both governments and private companies harvest and exploit personal data.
The way that intelligence analysts have gained access to bulk records of Americans’ phone calls and texts has evolved, but the purpose has been the same: They analyze social links to hunt for associates of known terrorism suspects.
Intelligence agencies can use the technique on data obtained through other means, like collection from networks abroad, where there are fewer legal limits. But those approaches do not offer the same systematic access to domestic phone records.
Congress ended and replaced the program disclosed by Mr. Snowden with the U.S.A. Freedom Act of 2015, which will expire in December. Security and privacy advocates have been gearing up for a legislative battle over whether to extend or revise the program — and with what changes, if any.
Mr. Murry, who is an adviser for Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, raised doubts over the weekend about whether that debate will be necessary. His remarks came during a podcast for the national security website Lawfare.
Mr. Murry brought up the pending expiration of the Freedom Act, but then disclosed that the Trump administration “hasn’t actually been using it for the past six months.”
“I’m actually not certain that the administration will want to start that back up,” Mr. Murry said.
He referred to problems that the National Security Agency disclosed last year. “Technical irregularities” had contaminated the agency’s database with message logs it had no authority to collect, so officials purged hundreds of millions of call and text records gathered from American telecommunications firms.