It bothers me that our government (and other governments, too) keeps us under so much surveillance, but what is more dispiriting is that they’ll continue to do it at great expense even thought it’s not effective.

A National Security Agency system that analyzed logs of Americans’ domestic phone calls and text messages cost $100 million from 2015 to 2019, but yielded only a single significant investigation, according to a newly declassified study.

Moreover, only twice during that four-year period did the program generate unique information that the F.B.I. did not already possess, said the study, which was produced by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board and briefed to Congress on Tuesday.

“Based on one report, F.B.I. vetted an individual, but, after vetting, determined that no further action was warranted,” the report said. “The second report provided unique information about a telephone number, previously known to U.S. authorities, which led to the opening of a foreign intelligence investigation.”

My main beef has always been that we have a 4th Amendment for a reason and there should be some probable cause for tracking every call or text we send or receive. But I thought that it would at least occasionally have the benefit of catching criminals and saving lives.

It turns out, these programs aren’t even good at doing that. Right now, the NSA is patting itself on the back for its decision to discontinue this specific surveillance effort, but I suspect they’ll just continue something just like under a different name. If they have the capability to gather information, they seem constitutionally incapable of restraining themselves,

In this case, the Constitution did play a role:

In an interview, the [privacy] board’s chairman, Adam I. Klein, praised the National Security Agency for deciding last year to suspend the program — not only because of its high cost and low value, but because of continuing problems in which telecommunications companies kept sending the agency more people’s phone records than it had legal authority to collect.

So, it was expensive, did not prevent crime, and was impossible to administer in a legal way. I suspect its failure to prevent crime was the least of their concerns. They just didn’t want a scandal that would threaten their careers and the agency’s budget.

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