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.