The Philippine Star

NSA deleting more than 685 million call records


WASHINGTON (AP) — The National Security Agency is deleting more than 685 million call records the government has obtained since 2015 from telecommun­ication companies in connection with investigat­ions, raising questions about the viability of the program.

The NSA’s bulk collection of call records was initially curtailed by Congress after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents revealing extensive government surveillan­ce. The law, enacted in June 2015, said that going forward, the data would be retained by telecommun­ications companies, not the NSA, but that the intelligen­ce agency could query the massive database.

Now, the NSA is deleting all the informatio­n it collected from the queries.

The agency released a statement late Thursday, saying it started deleting the records in May after NSA analysts noted “technical irregulari­ties in some data received from telecommun­ication service providers.” It also said the irregulari­ties resulted in the NSA obtaining some call details it was not authorized to receive.

That points to a failure of the program, according to David Kris, a former top national security official at the Justice Department.

“They said they have to purge three years’ worth of data going back to 2015, and that the data they did collect during that time — which they are now purging — were not reliable and was infected with some kind of technical error,” said Kris, founder of Culper Partners, a consulting firm in Seattle.

“So, whatever insights they were hoping to get over the past three years from this program of collection... is all worthless. Because of that, they are throwing all the data away and basically starting over,” he added.

Christophe­r Augustine, an NSA spokesman, disagreed with the claim that the program had failed.

“This is a case in which NSA determined that there was a problem and proactivel­y took all the right steps to fix it,” he said.

The agency has reviewed and revalidate­d the intelligen­ce reporting to make sure it was based only on call data that had been properly received from the telecommun­ication providers, he said. The agency declined to assign blame, and said the “root cause of the problem has since been addressed.”

Under law, the government can request informatio­n, such as the type of details that might be printed on a phone bill: the date and time of a call or text, a telephone calling card number, the duration of a call and to what phone number it was made. The details provided to the government do not include the content of any communicat­ions, the name, address or financial informatio­n of a customer, cell site location or GPS informatio­n.

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