A controversial US surveillance programme whose forerunner was exposed by Edward Snowden has not been used for six months and is unlikely to be renewed, a key congressional aide has said.
Under the version of the programme revealed in the Guardian by the National Security Agency whistleblower in 2013, the NSA collected the communication records of millions of US citizens indiscriminately and in bulk, regardless of whether or not they were suspected of wrongdoing.
In 2015, a federal appeals court ruled the existing programme illegal and it was replaced under the USA Freedom Act.
The act ended the collection of telephony “metadata” by the NSA and restricted it to data relevant to an investigation.
With the act due to expire at the end of this year, security and privacy campaigners have been braced for fresh arguments over the scope of the programme and whether it should be extended or revised.
But Luke Murry, the national security adviser to Republican House of Representatives minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, cast doubt on whether there would be any attempt to renew it.
“The administration actually hasn’t been using it for the past six months because of problems with the way in which that information was collected and possibly collected on US citizens, [and] in the way that was transferred from private companies to the administration … I’m actually not certain that the administration will want to start that back up,” he told the national security website Lawfare.
Daniel Schuman, the policy director of the civil liberties campaign group Demand Progress, told the New York Times: “If there is an ongoing program, even if we all have doubts about it, that’s a very different political matter than if the program has actually stopped.
“Then the question becomes ‘Why restart it?’ rather than whether to turn it off.”
Last year, the NSA announced it was deleting all call detail records acquired since 2015 because there had been “technical irregularities” in some data received from telecommunication service providers, which had also resulted in the agency receiving data it was not entitled to.
Under the programme, the numbers of both parties on a call can be handed over, along with location data, call time and duration, and unique identifiers. The contents of the conversation are not covered.
The existence of the original programme provoked an outcry about the extent of domestic spying and invasion of privacy.
It was part of a wider bulk collection programme of domestic telephone, internet and email records, secretly authorised by the then president, George W Bush, in the aftermath of September 11.