Companies became more resistant to the FBI’s collection of their customers’ information following revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, according to a Department of Justice Inspector General report released Thursday.
Partly because of the stigma around the telephony program, where NSA collected millions of Americans’ phone information, “providers’ resistance” to the orders, and the length of time it took to get the records — sometimes months — the FBI used it much less. It also said it started to use other means instead, including overseas surveillance and the criminal legal system to retrieve information.
The government for many years asserted that Section 215 of the Patriot Act allowed it to vacuum up millions of Americans’ telephone records from telecom companies—information about who’s calling who, when, and for how long—regardless of relevance to a specific investigation. And it could do so with a single court order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The information had been stored, queried, and analyzed by the NSA.
The new report, which covers 2012 to 2014, was required to be released as part of the U.S.A Freedom Act, enacted in June 2015, which formally ended bulk collection of Americans’ telephone information as it existed during that time period. While the information is no longer stored with the NSA, many have argued the agency can actually get more telephony information from companies than under the Patriot Act.
The DOJ National Security Division unit chief told the Inspector General that the decline in requests for business records was “in part” a consequence of Snowden’s disclosures, leading to “increased resistance from providers”—though he later acknowledged that attribution was “speculative.”
“I think that it’s possible that folks … have decided it’s not worth pursuing [business records orders], you know, obviously things haven’t been great with providers since Snowden either,” he said, according to the Inspector General.