The National Security Agency shut down its domestic phone spying program established following the 9/11 attacks in 2001, The New York Times reports, citing Luke Murry, the national security adviser of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
The initiative has been in effect for close to two decades now, traditionally enjoying strong support from both the White House and Capitol Hill regardless of the party in power. The Trump Administration never outright opposed it but reportedly has little interest in renewing its legal authority, according to the congressional aide.
The original effort that was often described as a privacy nightmare was championed by the administration of former President George W. Bush in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. The project was formally discontinued in 2015 during President Obama's second stint but was actually replaced with an almost identical alternative in the form of the U.S.A. Freedom Act.
While the official justification changed over the years and is relatively far from the original intent of hunting down Al-Qaeda members behind the devastating 9/11 attacks, the basic premise remains the same, with the legislative framework providing the NSA with an almost unrestricted access to the nation's call logs and SMS messages so that the intelligence community can work its big-data magic on it and try to surface anomalies, individuals statistically likely to be connected to terrorism.
How ethical that operation actually is has been one of the most polarizing subjects of the 21st century and one whereon every government so far largely deviated from what appeared to be the prevalent public opinion any particular issue. Even the relatively popular Obama administration dropped the ball over the matter, which only makes the newly reported development even more surprising.
The NSA supposedly hasn't acted on the U.S.A. Freedom Act for months now and isn't expected to resume its previous operations as the prevalent belief is that the initiative will soon be put to its formal end.
An Orwellian state secretly in the making
The program faced consistent criticism from privacy advocates and civil activists, having been described as one of the most intrusive efforts of its kind in the history of mankind, even relative to surveillance systems employed by non-democratic regimes in other parts of the world.
The controversial effort enjoyed support from all three branches of the United States government and was eventually even blessed by a secret court order in 2016 following minor turmoil over its existence. No litigation would have likely taken place if the U.S. government managed to keep a lid on it but the effort was revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013. The former NSA contractor revealed the extent of the agency's spying as part of one of the largest and most shocking such leaks in the country's history.
All wireless carriers in the country were forced to collaborate with the U.S. government on its data-collection efforts in total secrecy. In some cases, such partnerships reached arguably bizarre proportions; e.g. AT&T reportedly actively contributed to building out the NSA's spying tools.
The Trump administration previously signaled it's willing to look into the possibility of pushing for stronger data privacy regulations but did little to actually pursue that goal; putting an end to one of the most controversial surveillance laws ever would certainly help it gain significant credibility in that regard as it sets its sight on big tech.