WASHINGTON – The National Security Agency erases more than 685 million call lists that the government has received from telecommunications companies in connection with investigations since 2015 and raises questions about the feasibility of the program.Mass Collection of Calling Lists was initially curtailed by Congress after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents revealing extensive government surveillance. The law, which came into force in June 2015, states that the data would be kept by telecoms companies rather than the NSA, but the intelligence service could query the huge database.
Now, the NSA deletes all the information it has collected from the queries.
The agency released a statement on Thursday saying it began deleting records in May after NSA analysts found "technical irregularities on some telecommunications service provider data". It also said that the irregularities resulted in the NSA receiving some call details it was not entitled to receive.
This indicates a program failure, according to David Kris, a former national security officer in the Ministry of Justice.
"They said they needed to clean up data for three years, dating back to 201
Christopher Augustine, an NSA spokesman, disputed the claim that the program had failed.
"This is a case where the NSA found that there was a problem and proactively took all the right steps to fix it," he said.
The agency reviewed and re-validated intelligence reporting to make sure it was based only on call data that was properly received by telecoms providers, he said. The agency refused to blame, saying that the "cause of the problem has since been resolved".
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., A staunch advocate of data protection, blamed the telecommunications companies that provided call lists to the NSA.
"This incident shows that these companies acted with unacceptable carelessness and failed to comply with the law when sharing client confidential information with the government," he told the Associated Press in a written statement on Friday.
By law, the government can request information, such as the type of details that can be printed on a telephone bill: the date and time of a call or text, a calling card number, the duration of a call, and what phone number it was made. The information provided to the Government does not include the content of any communications, the name, address or financial information of a customer, the location of a cell or GPS information.
If the government investigators suspect that a particular telephone number is being used by a terrorist located in the US or abroad, the government will ask the telephone companies which other numbers were associated with the suspicious number known as the "first hops" – and then what numbers are in contact with those numbers, the "second hops."
The NSA collected more than 534.4 million details of calls and SMS from US telecommunications providers such as AT & T and Version in 2017, according to the latest government report on NSA surveillance activities this year. That was more than three times the 151.2 million collected in 2016.
The call records were part of a news service campaign that targeted 42 goals in 2016 and 40 goals in 2017. It defines a goal as an individual, group of individuals, organization or entity.
The 2015 Regulatory Reform Act now requires annual intelligence reports to Congress. The law also requires that the government take a court order to collect call logs to obtain information. Requests for records of US citizens must be based on an investigation conducted to protect against terrorism or secret intelligence activities, and the investigation may not be conducted solely on activities protected by the first Amendment.
Despite the reforms, the NSA still received some data from the telecom companies the agency was not allowed to see, and some of that data was inaccurate, Augustine said.
"We can not go into details because these details remain secret, but at no time did the NSA receive the content of any calls, the name, address, or financial information of a subscriber or customer, or the location information of the cells, or information about global positioning system, "he said.
Data protection and civil rights advocates said the NSA's announcement raised further concerns about the program.
"This is another flaw in a series of failures that show that many NSA espionage programs are out of control and have repeatedly failed to meet the limits set by Congress and FISA," said Neema Singh Guliani, Legislative the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington. Guliani was referring to a US federal court established and licensed under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to oversee petitions for surveillance orders.
She said that the public has the right to know more about the cause and extent of the problem, such as how many of the records were received in error and whether the NSA informed people that their information was incorrectly in the hands of the Agency has arrived