An April 27 report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence revealed that during 2016 the National Security Agency (NSA) collected some 151 million phone records of Americans, despite passage of the USA Freedom Act of 2015. While that law supposedly ended the program enabling the NSA to collect the phone records of Americans in bulk, it nonetheless allowed the NSA to continue accessing records from phone numbers of suspected terrorists via court orders.
The report revealed that the NSA still collected 151 millions phone records the next year under the new system, while obtaining court orders on only 42 individuals with suspected terrorist ties. According to the report, the high volume of records occurred because the NSA gathered multiple years of phone records from primary parties connected to each suspect phone number, and because a single phone call logged by two different phone companies counted as two records.
Alex Joel, chief privacy officer with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, insisted that the number of collected targets was small “when compared to the very large number of call detail records generated by those targets.” He added that “we believe the number of unique identifiers within those records is dramatically lower” than the 151 million figure indicated, adding that there were many duplicate records.