The NSA revelations of the past few weeks have focused heavily on telephone metadata, records of telephone calls made both domestically and internationally. But under George Bush, NSA also collected records of domestic email traffic. This was supposedly a temporary program started in the wake of 9/11, but it continued for years and eventually led to the now-famous hospital room rebellion led by James Comey in 2004.
Because of the DOJ rebellion, the program was shut down for a while, but was then restarted under FISA authority. So is this metadata still being collected? According to a secret inspector general’s report obtained by Glenn Greenwald and Spencer Ackerman, it continued throughout the Bush administration and then for a couple of years into the Obama administration. But it’s since been halted:
“The internet metadata collection program authorized by the Fisa court was discontinued in 2011 for operational and resource reasons and has not been restarted,” Shawn Turner, the Obama administration’s director of communications for National Intelligence, said in a statement to the Guardian.
“The program was discontinued by the executive branch as the result of an interagency review,” Turner continued. He would not elaborate further.
Needless to say, an official denial like this should be taken with a grain of salt. Turner says here that “the program authorized by the FISA court” has been discontinued, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that internet metadata on U.S. persons is no longer being collected. Maybe it’s simply being collected via a different program. Turner was carefully noncommital about that.
And even if domestic email records aren’t being collected any longer, it would be nice to know why. “Operational and resource reasons” doesn’t tell us much. Was it really too expensive? Was it ineffective? Did the president become disturbed by it? We don’t know.