The new Annual Statistical Transparency report published by the Office of The Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) gives the highlights of NSA’s surveillance campaigns.
In 2017, the agency sourced the metadata of over 530 million call records related to targets. That’s more than three times than the data collected in 2016, i.e., 151 million.
The metadata includes a number of things like the date and time of the call, duration of the call, etc. It doesn’t include the actual conversation. Still, what’s collected is enough to connect the dots.
It’s hard to guess the reason behind the call record numbers when the target count in 2017 was less. One possible explanation is that a target could have connections with many people whose call records might be needed, leading to long lists of call records. So, it may be just about the numbers.
Among the factors affecting the collection, there was a level of duplication when the same call records were obtained from different companies, according to the US intelligence officials.
An ODNI spokesperson told Reuters that the government “has not altered the manner in which it uses its authority to obtain call records.”
“We expect this number to fluctuate from year to year.”
While the dramatic increase may seem surprising, the collection is on a smaller scale than old times when the agency scooped call records estimated in billions per day; Edward Snowden exposed it in 2013.
A new surveillance system was introduced after a law was passed in 2015 to put a limit on NSA’s bulk data collection.
But no doubt this revelation would invite questions from privacy advocates as the report also details increase in the numbers for other surveillance methods.