The National Security Agency more than tripled the number of phone and text records that it collected of Americans in 2017 over 2016, according to a new government report. The spy agency collected 534 million records from telecommunications providers such as Verizon and AT&T in 2017 as compared with 151 million in 2016, per the New York Times. The jump is a bit surprising because it comes just two years after Congress passed a law intended to limit NSA’s authority to collect data in bulk. But the total is still far fewer than the billions collected under the massive surveillance system revealed in 2013 by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, reports Reuters.
After that, a system was established in which bulk records remain with telecom providers, but the NSA can access records of individuals deemed by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to present a reasonable risk of terrorism, as well as their direct contacts. Privacy advocates are alarmed: Robyn Greene, a surveillance and cybersecurity expert at the Open Technology Institute at New America, a nonprofit think tank, tells Reuters that "the intelligence community’s transparency has yet to extend to explaining dramatic increases in their collection." A spokesperson for the office that issued the report says that the government has not changed how it collects call records and that myriad factors play into how many records might be collected for a given person. (Read more NSA stories.)