It was great at snooping but terrible at stopping terrorists.
On Sunday, the National Security Agency will have to shut down one of its controversial mass surveillance programs: the unlimited collection of the phone records of millions of Americans, known as bulk metadata collection.
That program allowed the NSA to collect information about citizens' phone calls, including whom they were calling, when and where they made calls, and how long those calls lasted. While metadata collection doesn't include what was said during those calls, the information can allow intelligence analysts to build up extensive profiles of an individual's pattern of life. The New York Times first reported on the bulk metadata program, which was created under the Patriot Act, in late 2005, but it didn't attract truly widespread outrage—or reform—until details of the program appeared in the documents leaked by Edward Snowden in 2013. A federal judge in Washington, DC, ordered the program to stop in a ruling issued later that year, but that didn't happen until Congress passed a law this May that outlawed the bulk metadata program as of November 29. Under the new law, phone companies must now keep such records themselves, and intelligence agencies must seek permission from a federal judge to access specific data.