The National Security Agency (NSA) might end a surveillance program that collects and scrutinizes the call records and messages of practically hundreds of millions of people in the US.

Exposed in 2013 by Edward Snowden, the US mass surveillance program known as PRISM might finally end this December. PRISM began under the USA Patriot Act and was renewed in a weaker form in the USA Freedom Act under President Obama. The program is set to expire and the end of this year and there are chances that the White House might not want to renew it.

Luke Murry, a Republican congressional aide, mentioned on Lawfare's podcast "that the NSA hadn’t been using the program for several months due to some problems with how the data was collected, which means its renewal is unlikely."

Later in the interview, Murry clarified that the specific provision is “... Section 215 of USA Freedom Act, where you have this bulk collection of, basically metadata on telephone conversations – not the actual content of the conversations but we’re talking about the length of the call, time of call, who’s calling – and that expires at the end of this year.”

Are We Safe Now?

Should the chance of PRISM expiring make privacy enthusiasts happy? Learning from history, it can be assumed that the act will not just “go away” but rather be reinterpreted only to return in some other form.

The NSA runs several spying programs and shutting down one program might not be a reason for celebrations – at least not so soon.

The news couldn’t be confirmed by the NSA but Senator Wyden wants to close it down for good. He believes that the NSA’s phone surveillance program is fundamentally flawed and the government must end the program.

A further issue to consider is that even if the US government stops collecting data on phone calls, that's a drop in the pond compared to the online surveillance approved by Congress to 2024 with the FISA Amendments Act.

The Implications

While this move might be crowd-pleasing, it doesn’t mean that the surveillance will stop. NSA runs several programs to collect user data and killing of Section 215 doesn’t really mean complete privacy for people.

For now, we can wait and see if the metadata collection practice is actually dropped and if so, does it resurface in another form. In any case, the US online surveillance program shows no signs of ending soon at least it's easy enough to get some protection with a VPN.