A new report of the U.S. National Security Agency reveals the agency collected 534 million records of phone calls and text messages from Americans last year. The number is more than triple the number gathered in 2016, according to the U.S. intelligence agency report released Friday.
U.S. lawmakers passed a law in 2015 in an attempt to limit the NSA's ability to spy on American's but despite these efforts, the agency saw a sharp increase from 151 million during the second full year of a new surveillance system. The massive jump in the collection of American's call records coincided with a <a href="https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/icotr/2018-ASTR----CY2017----FINAL-for-Release-5.4.18.pdf">report Friday of an increase of other surveillance methods</a> prompting privacy advocates to voice concerns about government overreach.
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Former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden became famous when he exposed government surveillance programs such as "PRISM" that were spying on Americans without any type of search warrant or oversight. Snowden revealed to the world that the NSA is collecting billions of records per day which include the numbers and time of a call or text message but supposedly not their content. The collection of metadata has been a cause for concern since the mass surveillance was exposed by Snowden in 2013.
The increase in records collected by the NSA is both bewildering and alarming since the efforts of U.S. lawmakers in 2015 seem to have had little effect. Robyn Greene, policy counsel at the Washington-based Open Technology Institute that acts like a watchdog for digital issues said, "The intelligence community’s transparency has yet to extend to explaining dramatic increases in their collection."
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Timothy Barrett, a spokesman at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, released an annual report which revealed the government "has not altered the manner in which it uses its authority to obtain call detail records." Barrett said the NSA has found a host of factors that may influence the number of records collected such as the number of court-approved selection terms attained during investigations or the amount of historical information retained by phone service providers. Barrett added, "We expect this number to fluctuate from year to year."
U.S. intelligence officials attempted to quell concerns over the amount of data collected by saying the number of records collected includes multiple calls to or from the same phone numbers such as when obtaining the same call records from two different phone companies. The report released Friday also showed a sharp increase in the number of foreigners living outside the United States who were targeted under a warrantless internet surveillance program known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The number of foreigners targeted jumped from 106,469 in 2016 to 129,080 in 2017.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">BREAKING: annual ODNI surveillance transparency report shows # of call/text logs the NSA collected from US phone companies under Freedom Act system (replaced Patriot Act bulk phone logs program) soared to 534 million in 2017, up from 151 million in 2016. <a href="https://t.co/Wy6fTh4KPa">https://t.co/Wy6fTh4KPa</a></p>— Charlie Savage (@charlie_savage) <a href="https://twitter.com/charlie_savage/status/992475793526853632?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">May 4, 2018</a></blockquote>
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Section 702 was renewed by Congress earlier this year and is considered a vital tool to protect national security. Privacy advocates argue the program also incidentally collects an unreported number of communications belonging to Americans. This really isn't a surprise that Americans are being monitored under a program intended to target foreigners. The government has shown they are more than willing to disregard privacy and collect massive amounts of cell phone data from Americans but concern over this fact seems to be largely missing from the public discussion.
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