civil liberties organizations are urging U.S. officials to
disclose more details on the more than 500 million call
records collected on Americans by the National Security
Agency (NSA) last year.
organizations, which include the American Civil Liberties
Union and digital rights group Access Now, say that the
information is crucial to determining whether the government
is overstepping its authority.
sent Thursday to the Office of Director of National
Intelligence and to the House Judiciary Committee,
come following the publication of a transparency report
spy agency collected 534 million call detail records in
2017, a substantial increase over the previous year.
records are obtained from U.S. telecommunications providers
and include the number and time and duration of phone
contacts, not the content of the calls themselves.
civil liberties groups are particularly interested in the
number of so-called “unique identifiers,” or unique
accounts, devices, or individuals, swept up in the NSA’s
call detail record program.
annual report is mandated by the USA Freedom Act passed by
Congress in 2015 that aimed to place limits over the spy
agency’s surveillance program, following the Edward Snowden
disclosures. While the law directs the intelligence
community to report the number of unique identifiers,
officials have said that they do not possess the technical
ability to do so.
this data is particularly important given that the number of
call detail records collected under Section 215 has surged
to over 540 million in 2017 — more than triple what was
reported for 2016,” the ACLU and other groups wrote to
Director of National IntelligenceDan
the NSA has failed to report the number of unique
identifiers impacted, we are left with no way to assess
whether this surge is due to duplication, over-reporting, or
an abuse of the government’s authority,” they wrote. “We are
also concerned that the NSA’s failure to provide this
information is further indicative of disregard of Congress’
groups further pressed the intelligence community to report
the data and “provide a public explanation for the increase
in the number of call detail records being collected.”
a separate letter to Judiciary Committee leadersBob
Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the groups urged Congress to “use
all the tools at your disposal to ensure that ODNI and NSA
report this number as required by the USA Freedom Act.”
call detail records are collected under Section 215 of the
Patriot Act, which is due to expire next year. Lawmakers are
poised to soon begin discussing whether to renew or amend
in early May disclosed that the NSA collected 534 million
call records in 2017, over three times the number collected
in 2016. The report suggested that the call detail metric is
likely overstated given that the government counts each
record separately, even when it receives the same record
multiple times from different providers.
report acknowledged the requirement to provide the count of
unique identifiers under the USA Freedom Act, but said “the
government does not have the technical ability to isolate
the number of unique identifiers within records received
from the providers.”
the time, a DNI spokesman said that a range of factors could
influence the number of call records collected and the
agency anticipates the numbers will “fluctuate from year to
factors include the number of Court-approved selection terms
— like a phone number — that are used by the target; the way
targets use those selection terms; the amount of historical
data that providers retain; and the dynamics of the
ever-changing telecommunications sector,” Tim Barrett,
the spokesman, said.
spokesman for the Director of National Intelligence did not
immediately return a request for comment on Thursday.