Congress has forced the National Security Agency to begin winding down daily bulk of collection of billions of Americans’ phone call records, but that’s not the end of the line.
The NSA has sometimes used its daily dragnet of phone numbers in a way that links hundreds of thousands of innocent people to terrorist suspects.
That analysis has been placed in a smaller database dubbed the “Corporate Store” – and there’s nothing in the new legislation forcing NSA to purge the records.
Once there, peoples’ call records, and ultimately, the course of their daily lives, can be charted by the NSA, the FBI, the IRS and even some foreign governments.
Here’s how it has worked. The NSA identified a number from its daily phone collection they believed was associated with a terrorist suspect. They collected and stored all phone calls made within five years to and from that number.
They also collected all phone calls made by everyone who called the terrorist suspect’s number- and then everyone those people called as well.
A blue ribbon panel wrote that using this system, a single terrorism suspect could be quickly tied to 421,000 phone numbers.
Given that sweep, it is inevitable that people who had never so much as jaywalked would wind up “linked” to a terrorist- and their personal phone calling history tucked away for browsing.
If, for instance, you had the bad luck of ordering a pizza from the same eatery a terrorism suspect did, then you could have been linked to the suspect- and so would the family members and friends you called.
By one estimate, in 2012 alone, more than 100 million call records could have been collected and placed in the Store for further analysis.
Those searches didn’t happen very often, and after the Edward Snowden revelations, the White House limited their scope.
But that did not affect previous searches already squirreled away. And even limited searches still would net thousands of people not involved in wrongdoing.
NSA isn’t commenting on its plans for retaining these phone call records.
But with nothing forcing the Corporate Store to close for business, ACLU attorney Patrick Toomey said, “This NSA database may grow even more quickly than ever before.”
And here’s a closer look – The Post story on what hasn’t changed very much at all.