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NSA sought data on 534 MILLION phone calls in 2017

Compared to 151 million in 2016, perhaps due to dupes rather than spy boom

The United States’ Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released its annual Intelligence Community Transparency Report last Friday, revealing the extent of America’s domestic intelligence-gathering efforts.

Those efforts are certainly quite extensive. The report says America’s national security agencies sought 534,396,285 call detail records in calendar 2017, based on 31,196 search terms.

The respective numbers for 2016 were 151,230,968 and 22,360. Why the big jump in call detail records for 2017? The ODNI warned that it can’t de-dupe the data, meaning that the 534m+ figure could include the same call’s metadata recorded by two telcos. And the number of calls could be higher because it includes foreign calls, or because a search for a person of interest turned up all of their calls, not just calls of interest to investigators.

A more than threefold increase is nonetheless alarming, even if the number of call records sought is lower than figures detailed by whistle-blower Edward Snowden.

Other data points from the report (PDF) include:

  • Securing 1,437 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) “Probable Cause” Court Orders that would allow electronic surveillance, of approximately 1,337 targets, 299 of them Americans;
  • 12,762 National Security letters that would allow investigators to obtain phone, credit, or financial records;
  • 33 authorisations to use electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes;
  • 77 requests for business records

The report is replete with many, many more data points and paints a picture of an extensive surveillance operation.

As intended, it reads like an account of an orderly and meticulously-authorised intelligence-gathering effort, efforts. Snowden, however, exposed lots of surveillance efforts that exceeded agencies’ authorities. And of course this report doesn’t describe any of those. ®

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