Director of the National Security Agency (NSA) Adm. Michael Rogers, waits for the arrival of Senate Intelligence Committee members before taking their seats on Thursday, September 24, 2015.

Director of the National Security Agency (NSA) Adm. Michael Rogers, waits for the arrival of Senate Intelligence Committee members before taking their seats on Thursday, September 24, 2015. AP / Pablo Martinez Monsivais

NSA Head: Loss of Access to Metadata Will Hurt Intelligence

The director of the NSA says the Freedom Act will slow and hamper intelligence gathering. Too bad it’s already law.

On November 29, the NSA will formally end the practice of collecting bulk metadata – records of calls between people but not the actual contents of those calls. Instead, the agency will rely on phone companies to keep the data for use by the NSA upon presentation of a court order. On that day, Americans will become less safe, argued Adm. Michael Rogers, the director of the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command, before the Senate Intelligence Committee. It was Rogers’s first appearance before the committee since the passage of the USA Freedom Act in May. Rogers has said little about the bill publicly. On Thursday, Rogers was able to paint the change in law as dire, not only for intelligence gathering, but the safety of the American people.

Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., asked Rogers to imagine this: a plane takes off in Boston and turns south toward New York when it was scheduled to go to Montreal. The plane will enter New York airspace in 15 minutes. Theoretically, one of the passengers may have recently been in phone contact with a known terrorist, a clear warning signal. The question Coates put to Rogers: would he be able to get information about the passengers or other suspects in time to act?

“Under the previous framework, I, as the head of the NSA, was delegated the authority and the responsibility in emergency situations to authorize access to the data. I then had to go to the [FISA] court and to the attorney general and put into writing why I did it, what I did, and what the basis for that decision was,” Rogers answered. “Now as we transition to the new law, which we have to have firmly in place by November the 29th, I have lost that authority. It has now been raised to the attorney general and I will have to approach the attorney general for why she needs to authorize emergency access.”

When asked if that would add time to the process, he answered, “It is probably going to be longer. I suspect we’ll find out.”

Is that enough time to get the necessary data to stop the runaway plane?

“Not in minutes,” he answered. “Probably can’t do it in minutes.”

It’s a dramatic scenario, but hardly a common one. Rogers said that he used such emergency authorities in just a handful of cases. In those circumstances, “we were getting ready to pursue tactical action somewhere in the world that I was afraid was going to precipitate a reaction from ISIL and other groups, and as a result I authorized access to the data and then informed the court and the attorney general.” In other words, American troops’ lives were at stake. The process of getting data in such an emergency would typically take less than 24 hours, he said, and declined to guess how long it would take under the new law.

The Obama administration pushed hard for the end of metadata collection, so Rogers’s testimony marks a rare moment of discord with the president.

When asked by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the most outspoken privacy advocate on the committee, whether ending the collection of metadata would harm intelligence gathering, Rogers answered: “Yes.” He then referred to last year’s National Academy of Sciences publication, Bulk Collection of Signals Intelligence: Technical Options. The report says, “There is no software technique that will fully substitute for bulk collection where it is relied on to answer queries about the past after new targets become known.”

But Rogers also rejected the notion that passage of the act was a good thing for the former. Under the previous system, he said, no more than 30 NSA employees had access to sensitive personal metadata. “We monitor every keystroke they use to access that data,” he said.

Under the new system, unknown numbers of telephone company employees would do what a handful of carefully-monitored NSA employees used to do. (Those telephone company employees, of course, would be limited by law in terms of what they could do with it.) When asked by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, whether that new arrangement didn’t present far greater privacy concerns, Rogers said, coyly, “I would respectfully submit that’s for others to describe.”

But it was in answer to a question by Florida republican senator and presidential contender Marco Rubio where Rogers was his most eloquent. When asked to compare China’s approach to data, privacy, and intellectual property to that of the United States, Rogers answered: “They believe that access to communications and data is a sovereign right. We reject that notion.”

Access to data is a privilege—one that he doesn’t want to give up.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.