The U.S. National Security Agency has reduced the number of phone records it collects. An intelligence agency report released on Tuesday revealed that the organization harvested over 434 million call and text records in 2018. That's a decrease on 2017 when the NSA collected more than 534 million records from providers such as AT&T and Verizon. The decrease is notable after a massive increase in the number of records collected between 2016 and 2017. That occurred in the second full year of a new surveillance system which was established to limit the NSA collecting such data in bulk.
That was implemented in the wake of Edward Snowden's leaks in 2013. They prompted a massive U.S. debate about privacy and surveillance, resulting in Congress introducing the USA Freedom Act in 2015 which was designed to overhaul NSA access to data from domestic telecommunications companies. Under the old system, the NSA was able to collect billions of American phone records every day.
Even though the amount of data collected by the NSA over the past two years is still miniscule compared to the billions of records gathered in the pre-Snowden era, it has still resulted in privacy advocates voicing their concern about the extent of government intrusion into the lives of ordinary citizens. Under the new system, the records collected by the NSA are just "call detail records" - telecom metadata that logs phone numbers and call times without revealing any content.
This chart shows the estimated number of records collected from phone companies by the NSA.
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