US Intelligence “transparency report” reveals breadth of surveillance by NSA, others
A report issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) yesterday provides a sobering set of statistics on the breadth and depth of US intelligence surveillance of targets both overseas and within the United States. Even after steps were taken to reduce the collection of phone call metadata—ending bulk collection of phone company records and limiting collection to specific requests against records held by telecommunications providers—the National Security Agency collected over 151 million phone call records while tracking only 42 targets.
While this number is significantly smaller than the estimated billions of records that the NSA collected and retained each year under previous policy, it demonstrates just how broad the reach of surveillance of a limited number of individuals can go. Because the NSA collects data on numbers that are “two hops” away from a targeted phone, records would be collected from any number that called or was called by the target number, and then every number each of those numbers interacted with. As a result, collection expands exponentially as additional targets are added.
Other statistics from the Statistical Transparency Report Regarding Use of National Security Authority for 2016—the third such report issued by the ODNI—reveal the ever-expanding nature of other surveillance by the NSA and other agencies under the provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The number of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) “probable cause” orders issued per year has stayed relatively steady, with 1,559 orders issued by FISC applying to an estimated 1,687 targets—336 of whom are “US persons.” However, the total number of “targets” tracked through Internet surveillance and other means under FISA’s Section 702 has steadily climbed well beyond that, reaching a total of 106,469 tracked individuals in 2016.