On May 2, 2017, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released its annual transparency report. Notably, the National Security Agency (NSA) collected more than 151 million records of American’s phone calls last year—this despite the passage of the 2015 USA Freedom Act meant to limit the NSA’s ability to collect bulk phone records.
Although this number is a significant departure from the estimated billions of records previously collected (and may be inflated as the report does not account for duplication of records logged by separate phone companies), the number is still stark considering the NSA had authority from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to spy on only 42 terrorism suspects in 2016.
On the other hand, the report also informed that the FBI, while working on domestic cases rather than foreign intelligence cases, used the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to obtain private e-mail messages concerning an American suspect without a warrant only once last year. While FISA, which is set to expire at the end of the year, has drawn the ire of privacy advocates for some time now, such a low number of American targets may embolden Congress to reauthorize the law—or at the very least influence the legislative process.
Other numbers reported in yesterday’s release include a breakdown of U.S. identities revealed, masked, or initially masked but later revealed under FISA. The process by which identities of U.S. citizens can be revealed under FISA has been a hot topic in Washington this year with allegations of improper unmasking leveled by President Donald Trump against former President Barack Obama’s administration.