NSA Call Record Collection More Than Triples

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The surveillance agency obtained 534 million call and text records last year

The number of records of calls and text messages collected by the US’ National Security Agency (NSA) more than tripled to 534 million in 2017, according to a new US intelligence report.

The Intelligence Community Transparency Report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) said that the figure rose dramatically from 151 million for 2016 in the second full year of a new surveillance regime.

US lawmakers in 2015 passed a law that limited the NSA’s ability to collect such records in bulk. The NSA is estimated to have collected billions of records collected per day under the old system, which was exposed by former contractor Edward Snowden in 2013.

The records include the number and time of a call or message, but not its content.

Edward Snowden privacy protest NSA US Washington © Rena Schild ShutterstockDuplicate records

The NSA used 31,196  search terms in 2017, up a more modest 40 percent from 22,360 in 2016.

The ODNI said the large rise in call records could in part be due to the same data being collected twice on a single call from two telecoms companies, those of the caller and the receiver.

The office said the amount of historical information pulled up by search terms may vary.

The government said it has not altered the way it obtains call detail records.

“We expect this number to fluctuate from year to year,” a government spokesman told Reuters.

The report released on Friday also showed a rise in the numbers of foreigners living outside the US who were targeted under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), a warrantless internet surveillance programme. Congress renewed the programme earlier this year.

Overreach?

The figure increased to 129,080 in 2017 from 106,469 in 2016, up from 89,138 targets in 2013.

The ODNI report also recorded 1,437 FISA “probable cause” court orders allowing electronic surveillance on about 1,337 targets, including 299 Americans, 12,762 national security letters allowing investigators to obtain phone, credit or financial records, 33 authorisations of electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes, and 77 requests for business records.

Privacy advocates have warned of government overreach in the US’ surveillance programmes, while fears that Europeans’ data was being collected led the EU to scrap its existing transatlantic data transfer programme in 2015.

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