The NSA Stops Listening In At Midnight Saturday

Bulk data collection is about to get a little harder for the government.

When Saturday, November 28 turns to Sunday the 29th, the NSA’s bulk data collection program will officially be at an end. This marks the terminal point of a six-month transition to a different set of rules for how the United States government hoovers up internet and cell phone data. As NBC reminded us, we have fugitive NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden‘s leaked info on NSA activities to thank for the change.

President Obama announced the program’s end at the beginning of 2015, and in June the Congress formally smacked it down with the USA Freedom Act. Now the government has to make special requests:

[If] the government wants to check on a specific phone number in a potential terrorism case, a request must be made to the relevant telephone company for a check of its own data. The government will no longer retain the information.

Big surprise, though—there’s a bit of a catch to the deal. Even though, as NBC’s Pete Williams reported, the government will have to  “present a specific phone number or cell phone identifier to the phone companies,” the NSA will be still be allowed to look at the data it has collected to date. 

The NSA has said in part that it will only use the information to check up on how things are going with the program that begins Sunday.

As noted by Gawker and the Guardian, however, this may not truly be a substantial throttling of the surveillance state. The Guardian cited whistleblower Snowden’s opinion that the USA Freedom Act was “historic but [Snowden] identified some of the changes as cosmetic.”

Cosmetic maybe, but a start? 

We’ll just keep texting confidential info mostly in emojis and hope the government isn’t secretly recruiting squads of college-age “Emoji Talkers” to decode our messages.

Photos by Thomas Trutschel / Photothek / Getty