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NSA targeted just 248 Americans despite harvesting info on millions

Published time: June 28, 2014 03:50
AFP Photo / Getty Images / Spencer Platt

AFP Photo / Getty Images / Spencer Platt

Though much is already known regarding the sheer scope of the National Security Agency’s harvesting of phone data, a new report reveals that the intel agency was interested in fewer than 250 individuals last year.

In the face of mounting concern regarding the NSA's impressive ability to collect phone data in massive quantities (it has said it is collecting less than 30 percent of Americans’ call data, though likely far more in the past) the intelligence agency has argued that it has sifted through that information judiciously.

According to a transparency report released on Friday – the first instance in which the NSA has disclosed statistics of its surveillance – the NSA performed queries of its phone records haul for 248 “known or presumed persons” in the whole of 2013, the Guardian reports.

"This transparency report is significant because it shows for the first time on an annual basis both targets of business-record orders and the number of US persons specifically targeted with these metadata queries," said Alan Butler, a lawyer with the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

The NSA has previously defended the way in which the agency captures such a large swath of telephony information, arguing that the broad scope allows it to effectively identify data relevant to national security concerns.

“It needs to be the whole haystack,” NSA deputy director John C. Inglis told Congress in October. “It needs to be such that when you make a query you come away confident that you have the whole answer.”

The new transparency report, therefore, seems to confirm at least that the NSA is wholly committed to the approach articulated by Inglis, since 248 queries represents a minuscule amount in comparison to the hundreds of millions of Americans currently being swept in by its electronic surveillance.

Moreover, the NSA’s report also reflects the legal complexity used to justify queries over the vast data trove that it maintains. For example, the agency discloses 1,767 orders made under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, affecting 1,144 “targets” which might include individuals, groups, or organizations comprising several individuals. Interpreted broadly, those orders could amount to thousands, or potentially millions.

The intel agency also includes the number of National Security Letters – which are invoked by the Federal Bureau of Investigation over phone data – though that does not specify the number of Americans that might have been looked at. The NSA simply records that the FBI issued 19,212 such letters in 2013, with 38,832 “requests for information,” reports the Guardian.

Though critics of the NSA’s surveillance programs are likely to find useful information within the agency’s latest efforts at transparency, it is likely only to be seen as a first and incomplete step, and one conflated by the legal framework used by various law enforcement interests that access that data.

"The ODNI report calls itself into question by saying they're providing numbers, but immediately saying those numbers are only true to the extent the intelligence community believes it can release them without compromising sensitive information," said Amie Stepanovich of the digital rights group Access.

Comments (32)

 

mergon 30.06.2014 18:54

For those of you who dont believe they are spying on everybody go count the number and size of data storage facilities that have sprung up !

 

mergon 30.06.2014 18:44

the bugging game is a numbers game based on one person making a difference and to find that one person they have to bug and scan as many as they can !
all of the comments from here go into the mix for their profile system .
of course a player would not here or anywhere else to comment ,all of the social networks are multi linked as are adverts booking offices if your online they have a link and will follow those links all the way back to you because they also have your pacs/pacs/and imi,s unless you have Enigma chip device or a jumper phone they have you !

 

Sheep 30.06.2014 11:57

Oh please!!! Just go to your local Gay Pride parade and it will be all right.

New York, Chicago, Seattle or San Francisco you can march around and be your happy gay self while your oligarchy daddy take good care of you sissy boys and toms.

Reall y messed up when so confused and played by the media.

View all comments (32)
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