- Yes, NSA is collecting metadata on all phone calls.
- In order to run a query on that massive amount of data, analysts are only allowed to use pre-approved selection terms that meet the standard of reasonable articulable suspicion (RAS) that the response to the queries would produce information regarding calls involved with certain organizations (the naming of those organizations were redacted from the released document). According to Senator Feinstein, only 22 highly vetted NSA analysts can approve the selection terms.
- From those queries, if NSA determines the need to view the content of a call, they must go back to the FISA court and obtain a warrant.
- All members of Congress were provided with the information that NSA was collecting metadata on all telephone calls in the United States via a 5-page letter that could be viewed in a classified setting in both 2009 and again in 2011 prior to voting for approval of this program. Any Congressperson that suggests they didn't know about the scope of this program prior to that vote is either lying or never took the opportunity that was provided to them to learn about it.
There are other requirements listed in these documents about the training that is required by analysts, that all queries must be auditable and that NSA has to report back to the FISA court on any telephone content of a US person that is accessed. But that should give you a pretty good idea of the safeguards that are in place.
It seems to me that only two questions about this program remain. First of all, does the government need to access all of the metadata (some are suggesting that the government require phone companies to store the metadata for NSA queries)? And secondly, how effective is this program? Those are policy and efficacy questions - not legal or constitutional.
When it comes to the question of Edward Snowden, lets remind ourselves of the legal definition of "whistleblowing."
The disclosure by a person, usually an employee in a government agency or private enterprise, to the public or to those in authority, of mismanagement, corruption, illegality, or some other wrongdoing.While discussions about policy and efficacy are important, his leaks have - to date - clearly not met that criteria.