AT SOME POINT a hobby can get a bit out of hand, can't it? That's what the National Security Agency (NSA) has found with its penchant for collecting phone calls and text messages of American citizens in the name of terrorist hunting.
According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, American spooks now consider the expensive chore a lot more trouble than it's worth - especially now the public is aware they might be doing it, thanks to the whistleblowing of Edward Snowden.
But just as citizens didn't have an opt-out on being spied on, the NSA can't just unilaterally jack it in. It needs the go-ahead from The White House, which means dealing with a particularly unpredictable president who still has a bee in his bonnet about (very allegedly) having his "wires tapped."
Still, when the matter does return to Congress, either in the form of repeal or an extension, it's likely to meet less enthusiasm than it once managed. "At this point, I think it's going to be a pretty tough argument for them to make," Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee told The Journal. "I'll listen to whatever case they want to present, but I'm not convinced at this point that the advantages of the program have been worth the trouble."
The surveillance programme has been going on since the September 11th attacks but was considerably pared back in 2015 as outrage from the Snowden revelations snowballed. Billions of records each day were cut back to a few hundred million per year, and that level of finessing is just a lot more fiddly. Our heart bleeds.
Indeed, technical problems and compliance issues mean that the NSA hasn't even had the enthusiasm to snoop for the past few months, we learned recently. That seems awfully non-essential for something Americans were once told was absolutely essential. "The candle is not worth the flame," as one former intelligence official is quoted as saying in the WSJ piece.
Odd way of putting it, but maybe replacing all those candles with oil lamps might be more effective and less monstrously invasive? µ
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