U.S. asked that 1934 Americans' names be 'unmasked' in intel

NSA collected 151M phone records in 2016, despite law change

The annual report, issued by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, provides the first assessment of the effectiveness of the 2015 USA Freedom Act which was meant to limit dragnet surveillance of millions of Americans' phone records.

Under a controversial national security policy put in place by the Patriot Act after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the NSA has been collecting large amounts of metadata, the digital information that accompanies electronic communications.

That's the act that was supposed to clip the NSA's surveillance powers.

Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice, has said that neither she nor other Obama officials used secret intelligence reports to spy on Trump associates for political purposes.

"Back in 2004, a division of the NSA called the National Tactical Integration Office fitted a 62-foot diameter airship called the Hover Hammer with an eavesdropping device", reported the Intercept, adding that "The agency launched the three-engine airship at an airfield near Solomons Island, Maryland".

In the four years since National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden blew the lid off us surveillance overseas, the number of targets the U.S.is monitoring around the globe has steadily increased. Indeed, since the data includes multiple calls made to the same phone numbers, the 151 million records do not represent the actual number of people who had their phone data collected. Each query related to a single phone number counts separately.

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The report also revealed that on one occasion in 2016, the Federal Bureau of Investigation reviewed information about an American, whose data had been collected by the NSA under its surveillance programme. They said they had no breakdown of how many individuals' phone records were among those collected.

The report comes as Congress grapples with the decision of whether to reauthorize FISA Section 702: the one that allows for surveillance of foreign, non-US targets without a warrant.

The report said the names of 1,934 "U.S. persons" were "unmasked" previous year in response to specific requests, compared with 2,232 in 2015, but it did not identify who requested the names or on what grounds. The NSA said, "Instead, this surveillance will now be limited to only those communications that are directly "to" or "from" a foreign intelligence target".

Privacy groups have called FISA unconstitutional: it's a statute that "violates the Fourth Amendment because it permits the government to conduct large-scale warrantless surveillance of Americans' worldwide communications - communications in which Americans have a reasonable expectation of privacy", the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says.

The report, ODNI's third, shows the expanding nature of surveillance performed by other agencies as well, not just NSA.

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