The National Security Agency collected 151 million phone records in 2016 using a new system created by Congress after they voted in 2015 to end the agency’s once secret program that collected Americans’ phone records in bulk, according to a report released Tuesday.
The report was from an annual surveillance review published by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that described how the new system, created under the USA Freedom Act of 2015, is working, the New York Times reported.
The report showed that the agency was still collecting a large volume of calling records under the new system.
The NSA has secretly gathered large amounts of communications metadata, or records of phone calls showing who contacted whom but not what they said, since 9/11, once the Patriot Act was enacted during former President George W. Bush’s time in office, to find associates of known terrorism suspects.
The program was secret until former intelligence contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked information about the program to the Guardian in 2013.
In 2015, Congress enacted the Freedom Act to end the bulk collection of American phone records but allow the NSA to obtain records from phone companies about phone numbers suspected of belonging to suspected terrorists via a court order.
The NSA collected 151 million records using the system despite obtaining court orders to use the system on only 42 terrorism suspects in 2016, plus a few suspects left over from late 2015, the report said.
The reason the volume of records was so high was that the NSA gathered years of phone records from every caller a step away from each suspect and because a single phone call logged by two phone companies counted as two records.
The number of targets seemed small “when compared to the very large number of call detail records generated by those targets,” said Alex Joel, the chief civil liberties and privacy officer at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
“We believe the number of unique identifiers within those records is dramatically lower,” he added, saying that there were a lot of duplicate records.