The hugely controversial NSA bulk surveillance of Americans’ phone records came to a “end” today, with the six month “winding down” period of the USA Freedom Act finally coming to a close. There wasn’t much fanfare, however, because the shutting down of the program is largely a distinction without a difference.
That’s because back in early June Congress chose the weakest, most watered-down reform bill on offer, one which replaced the existing, privacy-violating meta-data scheme with an entirely new, only marginally different privacy-violating meta-data scheme.
Under the old system, an NSA computer was keeping track of all these phone records, allowing NSA agents to look them up. Under the new system, the phone companies are to keep the records instead, and provide the NSA with the access per secret court orders.
The phone companies never made it clear how much change this would actually involve, and since the FISA courts are overseeing it in both cases, and are notoriously willing to approve literally anything the NSA wants to do, the bottom line answer for what has changed will have to be “not much.”