Skip to main content

NSA’s Collection Of Phone Records Triples Despite ‘Limits’ In ‘USA Freedom Act’

The 2015 Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-collection and Online Monitoring Act (USA FREEDOM Act) was supposed to limit the NSA’s collection of phone call records and other mass surveillance powers. However, since then, the agency has been able to sharply increase the amount of call records collected from 151 million records to 500 million.

USA FREEDOM Act

The USA FREEDOM Act was initially supposed to be at least a moderate reform to the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act (PATRIOT Act). Civil liberties agencies such as the EFF, ACLU, and others have been supporting the bill since 2013, after intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden made his mass surveillance revelations.

However, by the time the USA Freedom Act was put up for a vote, the House and Senate committees in charge of shaping the legislation ahead of a vote had significantly watered down most of the intended reforms.

One of the major “wins” for the privacy activists at the time was that the law was supposed to drastically restrict NSA’s collection of phone records. In 2015, after the bill passed, the EFF said:

EFF has been in legal battles to stop the NSA’s mass Internet surveillance since January 2006. While the USA Freedom Act may have neutered the phone records surveillance program and provided much needed transparency to the secretive FISA Court overseeing the spying, it didn’t solve the broader digital surveillance problem. That’s still firmly on our agenda.

NSA Increases Call Records Collection

Despite the limits that were supposed to be put on the NSA, the agency seems to have found a way to drastically increase the number of collected phone records in its mass surveillance programs. The USA FREEDOM Act only requires the NSA to say how many records were collected, but it doesn’t require it to say how those numbers were collected or offer more transparency in general abouts its programs.

The collection of records from “foreigners” has also increased from 106,469 in 2016 to 129,080 in 2017 under the warrantless surveillance powers given by the FISA 702 section. Congress extended FISA earlier this year for another six years, until 2023.

Although, in theory, FISA 702 is supposed to target only foreigners, in practice the government uses the excuse that Americans’ data is collected “incidentally”. The section has long been criticized as allowing the NSA, and now also the FBI, DEA, DHS, and other civil law enforcement agencies to collect and then access the data of many Americans without first needing a warrant.

  • shrapnel_indie
    Not surprised. The thing obviously doesn't do what its supposed to though, despite scrutiny of "rights" organizations. So, either there are loopholes buried deep, it doesn't have enough teeth, or the alphabet soups ( yeah, civil law enforcement, sure... on paper) just don't give a flying flip about the rights of citizens.... incidental, my eye.
    Reply
  • stdragon
    ...and?

    I'd be really shocked if anyone finds this surprising.
    Reply
  • Giroro
    The PATRIOT was an emergency knee-jerk reaction to 9/11.

    We just need to repeal it and start from scratch now that we are not in a blind panic. We can take the time to debate security properly and do things right.
    The same needs to happen with the TSA and all the other poorly-executed fear-induced crap from that era.
    Reply
  • shrapnel_indie
    20949034 said:
    The PATRIOT was an emergency knee-jerk reaction to 9/11.

    We just need to repeal it and start from scratch now that we are not in a blind panic. We can take the time to debate security properly and do things right.
    The same needs to happen with the TSA and all the other poorly-executed fear-induced crap from that era.

    Never happen. They got more power and they'll not give it up so easily... Not saying everything legal to make them give it up shouldn't be done though.
    Reply
  • Integr8d
    "The PATRIOT was an emergency knee-jerk reaction to 9/11."

    Wrong. The USA PATRIOT Act was sitting on a shelf, for years, full of the wishes and dreams of people who knew that it'd never get passed, barring some massive event taking place.

    http://www.globalissues.org/article/342/the-usa-patriot-act-was-planned-before-911
    Reply
  • Giroro
    20949184 said:
    "The PATRIOT was an emergency knee-jerk reaction to 9/11."

    Wrong. The USA PATRIOT Act was sitting on a shelf, for years, full of the wishes and dreams of people who knew that it'd never get passed, barring some massive event taking place.

    ...And then it got passed as an emergency knee-jerk reaction to 9/11... So I'm not sure why you want to split hairs about how it came to pass. Every piece of legislation starts off as somebody's wish list.Usually bills get fixed through debate and reasonable compromise, and those that can't die. But sometimes congress pushes something through out of fear/desperation, and those are the things that we need them to go back and fix after the dust has settled.

    At the end of the day we still wound up with legislation that causes real problems, which need real action to find a real solution.
    Reply
  • genozaur
    There are two ways to find a needle in the haystack : 1) to take the whole haystack apart straw by straw employing a thousand of workers with hefty payroll (that's what the US "security" agencies do wasting $ billions); 2) use a powerful electric magnet.
    (says the Philologist, M.S. in information technology, Sr Lt of the Soviet Army reserve, a citizen of Russia)
    Reply
  • alan_rave
    x3 more call records means they have x3more power and budget. Freedom act has no chance,.
    Reply
  • dark_lord69
    Eh, I don't care. If the NSA wants to watch me they'd just get board. Protecting people like me is why they do what they do. I don't care about YOUR privacy.
    As long as they stop these people from bombing and shooting up our citizens.

    It's unfortunate that some of our top threats to the US are groups within the US... and that's why they are listening and watching our own citizens...
    Reply
  • stdragon
    20951207 said:
    Eh, I don't care. If the NSA wants to watch me they'd just get board. Protecting people like me is why they do what they do. I don't care about YOUR privacy.
    As long as they stop these people from bombing and shooting up our citizens.

    It's unfortunate that some of our top threats to the US are groups within the US... and that's why they are listening and watching our own citizens...

    "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority; still more when you superadd the tendency of the certainty of corruption by authority." - Lord Acton

    Please look up the Stasi of East Germany. The "Deep State" is quickly becoming that; usurping power it was never intended to have.
    Reply