It also focuses primarily on phone records and one phone record program. There are dozens of phone record programs and hundreds of different types of signals that are collected that are not subjects of the "FREEDOM Act".
Now (like it presumably was before) the NSA will not have full takes of all American phone records. They will force companies to keep these records for them though, and they will continue to have the ability to query them.
It doesn't matter if nobody is watching 99.5% of CCTV footage. If CCTVs watch every square inch of a city and record it for later possible inspection, that's surveillance. It does not matter if human analysts do not inspect 99.5% of the bulk data. It is still surveillance.
It was also surveillance when the KGB forced private citizens to keep tabs on one another. It does not matter whether it is Google, Yahoo, Apple, Microsoft, Dropbox, Facebook, and Comcast doing the surveillance on compulsion of the Fed. All of our data and communications are being stored and processed.
It is still, categorically, surveillance.
If we here are not smart enough to see through this bullshit, then the vast majority of the US certainly will also fall for this.
I think the Internet needs more communication services that operate on the client-side and communicate in a decentralized manner.
Only truly distributed, client-side services can resist the kinds of mass metadata collection that governments force service operators to engage in.
I personally have long since lost faith in the political systems of the world to safeguard the interests of their people. It's about time we took the matters into our own hands and start coming up with technological solutions.
If the government can query the whole trove whenever she deems there is a need, what difference does it make where the hard drives live?
Just more lacklustre theatre where nothing really changes and the partners/cronies get some extra loot.
As of 2013, the FBI was paying $325 per wiretap (http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/07/10/what...)
They are certainly not obvious to me. With government, there is a democratic oversight, you can (at least in theory) vote to have these records destroyed or stop collecting them and so on.
However, when private company does it, what kind of control do you have over them? Especially if they are 3rd party.
At least Governments are somewhat accountable.
I'm on my phone so I can't check out the other ones, but perhaps you can point to specific claims that are not supported? At the very least this one seems clearly correct.
Edit: also, I disagree with your implicit assertion that a site can't be credible if it has an opinion that it asserts and backs up with facts. It's not always true (frequently not, in the case of U.S. politics) that both sides are viable. Often, one side is just plain wrong or lying, as seems to be the case in this present situation.
"A nation in which the police, especially a secret police, summarily suppresses any social, economic, or political act that conflicts with governmental policy."
Not exactly a great fit.
Well, the government and the military uses very often this "good outcomes" concept when they pardon individuals who committed "collateral damage" (aka civilian casualties).
I would like to know how one could be a whistleblower without being "culpable" of "aiding the enemy" (not quoting you here). If some very powerful agency is doing something that doesn't respect the constitution, after reporting that internally and being completely ignored, I believe it would be a crime to not disclose these actions. It seems to me that there is no escape in this culpability game...
CIVCAS is simply not a crime by itself, "good outcome" or not. The legality of use of force has nothing to do with the outcome of that use in international law, except insofar as a nation that can guard its borders can prevent the rest of the world from bringing war criminals to justice.
E.g. if you deliberately target civilians in an attack that would be a crime, even if you accidentally managed to kill a bunch of important enemy military in a way that would have made the attack legal if you would have known the enemy military were there and targeted them.
Conversely if you target what you have every plausible reason to believe is a concentration of enemy military and it turns out to be, say, a wedding with no military present, that still wouldn't be illegal in international law.
The outcome is almost completely immaterial, it's the process that leads up to the decision to attack that determines the legality of a use of armed force.
Even if it resulted in something detrimental or even catastrophic, I still think that Snowden made the moral choice because those programs don't belong in a free society.
If you are a doctor going to save a life, it's OK to violate the speed limit.
If drove drunk and ran over a pedestrian, and he turned out to be a mass murderer on the way to strike again, you should still go to jail. You didn't intend good or act morally based on your knowledge at the time, and society would do well to discourage people from following your example.
We'll never know all the outcomes from Snowden's actions, good or bad. We'll never know what would have happened if he'd kept quiet. But why did he do it, and what did he believe would happen if he did or didn't speak up? That's the question. Not easy to answer, but it's the moral question.
Why else is behavior even a concern, except for its outcomes?
When people oppose surveillance, it's because they fear the possible outcome(s) of surveillance.
Likewise, then, for Snowden. It shouldn't have taken John Oliver to have to point out to Snowden (while interviewing Snowden literally opposite from the Russian intelligence headquarters) that he has to accept responsibility for his actions, good and bad, but apparently that's the world we live in now.
What he did was illegal, which is why he needs a pardon to begin with (if not to signal that he has political support in case of an attack from other gov branch).
Because expected outcomes matter, too. If I shoot you and you live, that's called "attempted murder", and IMHO should be punished exactly like actual murder. If I shoot you and a paramedic who is trying to stop your bleeding gives you a medicine that you're allergic to and you die, the paramedic should still be treated as someone who acted honorably.
We judge actions based on intent because we want to encourage people to act with good intentions. Outcomes are frequently beyond our control.
> he has to accept responsibility for his actions, good and bad
True, but it's common for us to honor those who choose a good tradeoff. Eg, "yes, you shot the criminal and killed him, which is bad, but you rightly judged it was better to save the hostage's life. That's a wise and moral tradeoff, here's a medal."
Many people believe Snowden's tradeoff was right.
Any my assertion is that the people who believe that do not understand the trades that Snowden made, but instead think that because Snowden punched the boogeyman, anything else Snowden could be responsible for is mitigated completely.
I'm not saying we should hang Snowden from the yardarm, but it would be nice if people would at least acknowledge the negative repercussions that we know of today, and the possibly much more negative repercussions that have yet to be revealed, and weigh that into their calculus somewhere.
The fact is that NSA is still around, will continue to be around, will continue to collect information overseas, will continue to be able to collect information domestically (albeit under more policy controls), and all of this was completely predictable when Snowden flew out of Hawai'i for the last time.
Was everything else that came with it worth it? Playing populist politics to try and drive a wedge between Europe and the U.S. (just prior to Putin's heel turn with Ukraine, no less)... was that and everything else worth it?
And someone please explain, why was it not possible to simply leak the civil liberties concerns such as phone metadata, AND NOTHING ELSE? He'd still have "started the debate", no? Why did he steal Tier 3 information that he's only leaked to China (and no other journalists) up to this point?
Besides, the NSA mass surveillance programs are next to worthless.
Moving from collecting 5% of the uninteresting communication in the world to 99% is irrelevant when it's the 0.0001% that isn't so easily collected that we're looking for.
A program of mass surveillance like that is only good for things that aren't a national security risk, such as stopping drug dealers, counterfeiters, etc. Perhaps useful, but nothing we need a massive secret-police force able to tap everything for.
What we need are military trials for treason.
Wow, do you rant about conspiracy theories outside of HN as well? Because that's the lamest piece of "evidence" I've ever heard.
Also, we know from multiple leaks that the USA threatened Germany and other countries to keep them from giving Snowden asylum. He literally had no other choice than Putin's Russia.
There is a traitor in the room, I'll give you a mirror to help you find them.
You can't simply argue that 1 good thing outweighs an arbitrary number of bad things from your decision. Otherwise the NSA would be able to use that logic to argue for an actual policy of no limit to surveillance: "Hey, we disrupted that one plot from our decision to engage in illegal spying, so that makes it OK to scale up surveillance as much as we want, right?"
Has anyone even figured out what Snowden did with all the stuff he leaked from NSA while at Booz-Allen (i.e. the rest of stuff with the IP addresses of Chinese servers NSA was attacking, that he leaked to Chinese media)? The stuff he leaked to Greenwald was from when he worked at Dell, not Booz-Allen. Greenwald and the other journalists claim they never got the documentation that Snowden obtained while he was at Booz-Allen, Snowden claims he took nothing with him to Russia... so where is it? Where did it go?
Did he destroy it all in Hong Kong? If so why did he claim he needed to jump over to Booz-Allen to get to the "Tier 3" information in the first place, if he was never going to leak that data to anyone?
Where was he in the 11+ days between when he left Hawai'i and when he apppeared in Hong Kong?
He may not be a Russian spy but even now he has left as many questions as he's answered...
All problems coming from the inconvenient revealing of the NSA's programs are firmly the NSA's fault. (The way accidental deaths during a crime are felony murder...)
Do you blame rape victims too? And I ask in all seriousness. Because he's being called a traitor and being forced to flee to Russia because he told us our employees are lying to us.
However, I would argue that the probability of his leaks causing more substantial damage to the US than the very organization perpetrating the act is vanishingly small.
There are different ways of measuring damage, but I'm not talking about destroyed vehicles or dead bodies.
Wanna scoff at a 1984 reference? Fine, Snowden demonstrated that the government's power and reach is much greater--much much greater--than most people imagined.
Of course, if the downside risk is unlimited, if it's actually infinite, then literally no good Snowden has done could overcome it. Seems like a bit of a gotcha to me.
Now here we are, and I think that while it's nice that we're trying to fight these invasive practices in courts and through policy, security by design is what's needed most. The invasive practices were either completely unlawful or stretched the definition of what is lawful anyway, so the policy side of things should focus on protecting the legality of encryption, not making it illegal to spy.
Everyone needs to understand that everyone is spying on everyone, and every time a system is implemented to protect someone from spying, the spy will test the topology of that system and find a new way in. So begins a Cold War in the protection of privacy - unending, but honest at least.
But by the same token, there's little or no reason to believe that such a thing is likely, just like there's little or no reason to expect any sort of dramatic consequence from Snowden's leaks. I mean, really, why would we expect the papers who have the leaked data to suddenly throw caution to the wind and publish anything any more damaging than what they already have? As far as that goes, if they had anything more revealing and were going to publish it, why wouldn't they have done it earlier?
It would be much worse to have a less deadly and more contagious pathogen. Airborne transmission, plus long linger times for surface transmission, plus long incubation periods, plus low survivability, times zero treatment options, times international airports, equals annihilated species.
This might connect with government secrets somehow if there were a secret project to develop a weaponized virus, and a vaccine for it, then to sneak the vaccine into a multivalent vaccine commonly given to the domestic population, but not to foreigners. The revelation might startle another bio-capable nation into pre-emptively releasing their supervirus, relying on quarantines to save a portion of their population from the American weapon.
There are practical limits on the downside. The worst we could probably do at our current tech level is kill everything on the Earth's surface except for the extremophiles like D. radiodurans, and even that would assume that a lot of people have been telling a lot of lies about existing stockpiles of cobalt-salted nuclear weapons or other types of salted nukes.
Interestingly enough, the main "thing" that ever got me intrigued by the idea of a "deadly superbug" was reading The Stand by Stephen King.
Also, we're talking about blame for actions committed. I feel no remorse for the criminal, anticipating that every new leak will be the one that tightens the noose. That's their fault for the crimes they committed, not the person who turned them in.
If we were talking about a poor kid who robbed a liquor store people would be saying "Can't do the time, don't do the crime."
I think some misdemeanor (misuse of government documents or somesuch) and a nominal fine would be a suitable punishment, I am merely one citizen of millions however.
The issue that I have right now, is our existing laws for the kind of crime to me are blatantly unjust, and used so selectively as to create the impression of selective persecution of unwanted and unpopular views.
Furthermore, there is the concept of extenuating circumstances. Killing people is usually a crime, but we generally accept self defense as a legitimate justification that requires no punishment. Regarding Snowden, in a country where oaths are taken to defend the Constitution - and not the country itself - informing the people that important parts of the Constitution are under attack or being ignored is an incredibly strong and obvious example of extenuating circumstances.
Anybody that has a problem with that really needs to focus their attention on the people that made such an extreme defense of the Constitution necessary. Yes, we need to update a lot of laws. Hopefully, we can accomplish those changes soon, before someone else is forced to make the choice between following the law and protecting the Constitution like Snowden.
I try not to pass judgement on weather spying on our allies is morally wrong, I can't say what I'd do if I were president, however I'd always assumed that everyone spies pretty evenly on everyone else, same with the telephone meta data tracking, while I was appalled at the depth and retention time of program, I wasn't really surprised it was going on, as the government has long had easy access to call detail records, this is only an extension of that.
That said, I don't think its right to spy on American Citizens, at home or abroad, spying on there, meh, YMMV, I don't think the government should be doing things in private it wouldn't want to come out later.
revealed that the United States intercepted messages between Ayman al-Zawahri, who succeeded Osama bin Laden as the head of Al Qaida, and Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the head of the Yemen-based Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, discussing an imminent terrorist attack 
And as a result, they may have changed communication methods.
He's had other questionable discloses as well.
Snowden was a steward of the documents, albeit taken against the will of the NSA. Relinquishing those documents to journalists he knew to be technologically uneducated (remember, he had to teach Poitras and Greenwald how to use PGP and adopt the basics of computer security) cannot, with logical consistency, be considered as placing them into authoritatively safe hands.
In most cases, information disclosed to a journalist should be considered to be disclosed to that journalists' readership.
I'd be absurdly happy to be proven wrong, but there is a very high chance that every single document snowden distributed is on sale to the highest bidder, and has been for a while.
Paragraph 15 
> Two Western intelligence experts, who worked for major government spy agencies, said they believed that the Chinese government had managed to drain the contents of the four laptops that Mr. Snowden said he brought to Hong Kong, and that he said were with him during his stay at a Hong Kong hotel.
I believe that qualifies as a "claim by a government agency"
If what you say were true, then Snowden should just come back to the US. He doesn't even need a pardon. Afterall, he didn't disclose anything.. the journalists did.
A couple of days ago news outlets were calling Seymour Hersh a conspiracy nut because his report contained information gained off anonymous sources in the intelligence community.
He is also one of the most important investigative journalists of the last 100 years. The two roles are not mutually exclusive.
My understanding of that statement is that he meant that they were deeply religious and were members op Opus Dei, not that there's a secretive organization that's controlling USSOCOM.
And if anyone was wondering, Seymour Hersh is the journalist who wrote the killing bin laden story. He has nothing to do with the article I linked to.
You can't really say "the law", since a large portion of what the NSA is doing is legal under the PATRIOT Act and various intelligence bills and processes. And you can't really say "the Constitution" either, since only the Supreme Court truly possesses that power.
I do think Snowden should be pardoned, and I think his intentions were pure and he mostly acted properly (though I do have a few issues with some aspects of how he handled it), but the Espionage Act exists for a reason.
We don't need to make leaking all things all the time legal, but we need our legal system and our courts to have the option to decide whether or not something is in the people's best interest to have released and then pardon those leakers on a case by case basis, punishing those who aren't. It's a case of balance.
The Supreme Court may be the final arbiter (within the system of government, at least) when there is a controversy over what is constitutional, but it does not mean that they are the only entity that has the power or obligation to interpret and act on the Constitution even when other laws purport to mandate something contrary to it.
> but the Espionage Act exists for a reason.
The Espionage Act may exist for a legitimate reason, but the manner in which it purports to serve that reason has been the subject of serious and sustained criticism from pretty shortly after it was adopted nearly a century ago.
It might be a good idea to rethink it from first principles, rather than accepting a framework laid out in the early-20th Century Red Scare and then tightened under McCarthyism.
That claim requires certain assumptions of moral first principles, so whether its "true" or not is not something people are liable to agree on even if they agree on the material facts.
However, his comments in that discussion were dismissive, obnoxious and negative.
Now tptacek publicly argues against Snowden's pardon without disclosing his NSA affiliation.
The original comment calling for disclosures was heavily downvoted by HN community. I am interested in the opinion of the HN members present in this thread. Should there be an effort to expose possible conflict of interest on HN?
Context is important: HN is one of/the most influential tech and startup media/community. tptacek is a respected, well-known and authoritative HN member with lots of clout.
Nixon shouldn't have been pardoned, he should have had to answer for the crimes he committed, but in a way, he did.. he was permanently removed from circles of power, and left in disgrace.
I wont really make the argument that what history meted out to him what sufficient just merely that the prosecution would have taken another 5+ years, while in the mean time the nation and government would have been by in large paralyzed, I believe it was healthier in the long run to close the chapter on that phase of history, and move on.
Something else I'd note, the laws passed in the wake of watergate were reduced in scope, and allowed to be skirted by a compliant and fearful of terrorism congress, the wiretapping is not the fault of the executive, its a failure of congress to provide anywhere near enough oversight.
A pardon, at maximum (as usually understood, though I don't think the commonly-accepted belief that prospective pardons are invalid has actually been tested), could apply to all federal offenses committed prior to the pardon being issued, whether or not they were now known, or whether "current charges" even existed.
1) Assumption: A pardon of Snowden is only appropriate if the upsides of the leak outweigh the downsides of the leak.
2) We don't know the full downside of the leaks (since that requires knowledge of the future) 
3) Therefore, the potential exists for the downside of the leaks to outweigh the upside.
4) Therefore, we shouldn't offer to pardon him yet as we don't know it's appropriate.
The conclusion of the argument relates only to the decision on whether to extend a pardon to Snowden. We don't need to make a presumption of innocence or guilt when deciding to offer a pardon to someone. There is no right to a pardon, and no right to be considered for a pardon. These decisions are the prerogative of the President (for federal crimes).
Calling his argument "guilty until proven innocent" would only be a fair assessment of his argument if tptacek was advocating for punishing Snowden before a trial court and jury determine his guilt.
 As an aside, I don't see how this statement could ever become false — at least for time scales that would be relevant to offering relief to Snowden.
I personally am of the belief that the government is entitled to zero secrets. I fail to see any downsides that the release of any of this data might cause.
There are lots that could damage US intelligence gathering, but I don't see that as a downside at all. Spying should be hard, as every human is entitled to private communications, even the ones born outside of our imaginary invisible lines we call USA NUMBER ONE.
Of course, if the public cannot have effective oversight over its representatives, it's not a democratic republic any more, but an oligarchic or aristocratic republic, and the representatives are acting on behalf of the elites rather than the general public.
> "I personally am of the belief that the government is entitled to zero secrets"
While I think the government absolutely has abused its privilege to hold secrets from the public, I think it's pretty clear that the government is entitled to some secrets.
Information that — if disclosed — would lead to a clear and present dangers to specific individuals seems like a clear-cut case of reasonable government secrets. Some examples of this:
* The names of police officers working undercover-cases and the names of their targets
* Specific troop position and movements in a time-frame that would allow a reasonable adversary to extrapolate current positions (e.g. information from 10 years ago is not necessarily relevant)
* The names of targets of ongoing criminal investigations
Some examples of things that I think are inappropriate uses of government secrets:
* The legal-justification of some FISC rulings
* The legal-interpretations of government attorneys that support ongoing government actions
* A high level overview of information that the government captures on its citizens (who have no suspicion of criminal activity).
> "I fail to see any downsides that the release of any of this data might cause."
I think it's very likely that the data that Snowden leaked to responsible journalists contained the names of undercover agents in the field. If one of the journalists irresponsibly leaked these names it could easily be responsible for the deaths of those agents.
I don't think this is likely, as I think the journalists that Snowden leaked his documents to have been — on the whole — fairly responsible. However, it is certainly a potential downside of the leak.
Law (so far) is merely stains on paper until interpreted by the mind of an individual in some context (time, place, society). Societal context is some collective consensus over right and wrong -- some popular mush of common sense, the influence of which can be seen in the evolution of, for example, supreme court decisions over socially controversial issues. Where large numbers of individuals subscribe to a particular set of beliefs about what the law is, and proceed to act accordingly, a very convincing illusion of government emerges. And one may refer to this as a state religion in the sense it is entirely an emergent property of belief rather than reality.
Thus, absolute law is a myth. Pardons are an outlet for the elected leadership to short-circuit the legal process when, in a given instance, punishment is perceived to exceed the crime. It is thus arguably irrational to assert that a pardon is premature in the Snowden case, considering the outcome thus far.
Of course, those capable of issuing such pardons are themselves true believers. Snowden has committed blasphemy against the state religion. Thus a pardon can only occur should some popular unrest threaten those in power.
What would you have had him do?
I know you can't prove a negative, but ordinarily we shouldn't accept unsubstantiated claims.
How many more do you think there are that are even more egregious but they don't have public pressure to end because nobody realizes they exist?
We need a constant stream of Edward Snowdens so we know what our own free country is up to.
On the flipside, if you were tasked with security in the US and you had everything at your disposal, you'd go as far as you could into privacy until the people noticed and pushed back. So it is important that this is a constant battle.
Ignore video - read description. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wApOHk92Ds
I only bring this up as it is within the realm of possibility. Especially with the massive media narrative surrounding the entire thing. Although it seems a little too conspiracy theory for people to sink their teeth into the possibility.
The sheer amount of spying operations makes me think its sincere on Snowden's part. If it were truly a limited hangout operation, why would they release so many programs? Why not only 1 or 2? What would they be trying to distract the general population from? What could their agenda be behind doing this at all?
The closest "agenda" they could be trying to push is the "necessary backdoors to circumvent encryption then we wouldn't need all these spy tools for mass surveillance" pitch that kinda flopped for obvious reasons.
To clarify there can be other reasons for a limited hangout. For example, to test the water of the governments control over the population. How many people have you seen that hold the opinion Snowden is an American Traitor who should be killed?
That is a red flag to me that there are Americans who trust the government enough to forego their own privacy for promised security, even when the security has failed to be delivered. This is good testing grounds to see "how far the government can push things" to keep control over the population. Knowledge is power - and the government is collecting it en masse on its people.
We've learned enough from history that brutal dictatorships end in downfall of the leaders. What about a complacent "ownership" where the 99% slave away for the 1% in rather blissful happiness of their situation? It's not all bad, they make a decent living after all, why would they ruin it with a revolt? If I were part of the 1%, that would be my goal. Keep the 99% happy and make my life an easy one where I can do anything I like.
All speculation and philosophical thinking to spark discussion of course.
I do not think he is a plant. * Puts on my conspiracy hat * But maybe that's what they want me to think?
Yes, I'm sure it will stop.
TL;DR: It's a good one, but EFF and others feel it doesn't go nearly far enough to curb spying.
Actually, it's NOT a good one. To quote Rep. Justin Amash on USA Freedom: “H.R. 2048 actually expands the statutory basis for the large-scale collection of most data“
He's the only one who is strangely saying something different than the rest.
At his young age, it's possible to imagine Amash breaking Paul's record for casting the largest number of sole nays.
Honestly, they ought to just pass a law that bills can't have names and can only be numbered, to avoid propagandized or just plain dishonest titles.
So it very well may be that metadata collection ends under the Patriot Act and continues under some sealed executive order from the G.W. Bush years.
If watching DC over the last decade or so has taught me anything, it's to be very careful noticing the difference between what things appear to be and what they actually are.
ADD: Just to be clear "Congress votes (and the president signs) a law to outlaw bulk data collection" is one headline. "The House of Representatives fails to authorize some forms of bulk collection by no longer continuing certain provisions" is another. The House is not voting to end anything.
Mr. Headline Writer Person: please do not confuse these two completely different scenarios.
To be honest, we should have standards and secret courts and "national security" letters are the very thing that the constitution was designed to stop. (the fourth amendment and the like were meant to put an end to the equivalent of that era.)
Signing or voting for any continuation of the Patriot Act should be considered an unforgivable act by anyone who values freedom.
Do you know off hand the name of those era's equivalents? Just some search terms to get me going would be appreciated. I'd like to learn more about the historical precedent.
It's linked to from this page which also may help http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2013/07/nsa-spying-is-exactly...
But since they had a general warrant they were easily abused in practice, which in part led to the wording of the Fourth Amendment.
"Section 102(b)(1) of the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 (50 U.S.C. 1805 note) is amended by striking June 1, 2015 and inserting December 15, 2019."
So no need to fight that Patriot Act fight for another 4 years.
It is definitely time to switch to SB, HB and numbers for bills and no propagandistic naming of bills for sure so they can't get this fast track mentality. They are also pushing through TPP with strong-arming while presenting this false NSA good news as a top story.
I think this is what should happen.
If I'm not wrong about that, I would much rather let the damn thing run for a few more years and have the Supremes kill it for good.
Moreover, recent court cases at all levels make it clear that the Judicial system is pretty sick of surveillance methods that rely on creative interpretations of law.
If the Supremes don't get a chance to weigh in and stake this behavior through the heart, Congress will soon dismantle some or all of it, only piece the programs back together over the next few years.
 Much as Ma Bell pieced itself back together (sans Bell Labs) after the breakup.
I think it's totally worth the risk.
House Declines to Let The Patriot Act Expire as Planned
or House Votes to Extend the Patriot Act...Again
or House Votes to Extend the Patriot Act, Attempts to Curtail Worse Excesses
Here's a hint, NYT. When Milton Friedman said "Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program," he was being critical not descriptive.
Call me overly cynical, but I suspect that the legislative branch lost meaningful influence on the executive in this area some time ago.
If the program gets discovered and the public is upset legislators can pretend they didn't know about it. Nancy Pelosi did this rather famously, pretending she'd never been briefed on programs she was documented to have been briefed on.
On the other hand, if a big terrorist attack happens and the public is in the mood for greater leeway for security services Congress can point to programs like this one and say "See, we've been looking out for you all along by authorizing intrusive data collection."
This is the way legislative politics works in the US. The goal is to put yourself into a "heads I win, tails... I win" situation, and they're very good at it. To operate with principle is to risk giving your electoral opponents ammunition when you're up for office next.
If Congress actually wanted to enforce its will here you would see concrete changes. But it doesn't.
Actually, it would seem the best outcome would be to prolong things past the 1st...
but i am sure they will come up with another clever name for it and just keep on doing it.
...unless they make them on a smartphone OS from a PRISM partner vendor like Google or Apple.
Or call someone outside of the country that only holds 4% of humans.
Or make the call on Skype or Facebook.
Or send an email.
It's progress, I guess. But is it meaningful progress?
There is tons of evidence that putting a name in your iCloud or Google contacts means the NSA gets a copy.