NSA Metadata Program Likely Not Cost-Effective, Researchers Say

While much of the coverage of the surveillance programs revealed by Edward Snowden have focused on the legality and constitutionality of the collection of metadata and Internet traffic in the name of counter-terrorism and national security, the question of whether these programs are actually cost effective has gone largely unexamined. But a pair of academic researchers decided to have a look at whether the NSA-and by extension, the American people-is getting anything worthwhile for the untold millions spent on the metadata program. Their conclusion: probably not.The metadata program, which was the first surveillance system revealed by Snowden in June, is authorized under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act and enables the NSA to collect and store phone call records under blanket court orders. The agency can store these records for five years, and they include information such as the originating and terminating phone numbers and the length of each call; they don’t include call content. Administration and intelligence officials have said in the wake of the Snowden leaks that collecting this data enables them to “connect the dots” among various disparate pieces of intelligence and suspects in order to conduct terrorist investigations. They also have argued that the disclosure of the Section 215 surveillance program and others in recent months have caused serious damage to American intelligence capabilities.

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