Thu, May 04, 2017 - Page 7 News List

NSA collected data on Americans’ calls despite law: report

Reuters, WASHINGTON

The US National Security Agency (NSA) last year collected more than 151 million records of Americans’ telephone calls, even after US Congress limited its ability to collect bulk telephone records, according to an annual report issued on Tuesday by the top US intelligence official.

The report from the office of US Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats was the first measure of the effects of the 2015 USA Freedom Act, which limited the NSA to collecting telephone records and contacts of people US and allied intelligence agencies suspect might have ties to terrorism.

It found that the NSA collected the 151 million records even though it had warrants from the secret US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to spy on only 42 terrorism suspects last year, in addition to a handful identified the previous year.

The NSA has been gathering a vast quantity of telephone metadata: records of callers’ and recipients’ telephone numbers, and the times and durations of the calls — but not their content — since the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

The report came as Congress faced a decision on whether to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which permits the NSA to collect foreign intelligence information on non-US persons outside the US and is scheduled to expire at the end of this year.

Privacy advocates have argued that Section 702 permits the NSA to spy on Internet and telephone communications of Americans without warrants from the court, and that foreign intelligence could be used for domestic law enforcement purposes in a way that evades traditional legal requirements.

The report said that on one occasion last year, the FBI obtained information about an American in response to a search of Section 702 data intended to produce evidence of a crime not related to foreign intelligence.

However, the report did not address how frequently the FBI obtained information about Americans while investigating a foreign intelligence matter.

On Friday last week, the NSA said it had stopped a form of surveillance that allowed it to collect without a warrant the digital communications of Americans who mentioned a foreign intelligence target in their messages.

The new report also came amid allegations, recently repeated by US President Donald Trump, that former US president Barack Obama ordered warrantless surveillance of Trump’s communications and that former US national security adviser Susan Rice asked the NSA to unmask the names of US persons caught in the surveillance.

Both Republican and Democratic members of the congressional intelligence committees have said that so far they have found no evidence to support either allegation.

Officials on Tuesday said that the 151 million records collected last year were tiny compared with the number collected under procedures that were stopped after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed the surveillance program in 2013.

As the 151 million would include multiple calls made to or from the same telephone numbers, the number of people whose records were collected would also be much smaller, they said.

They said they had no breakdown of how many individuals’ telephone records were among those collected.

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