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NSA now collecting less than 30 percent of US phone records

The National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] is collecting less than 30 percent of all Americans' phone records due to the inability to keep up with the increased use of cellular phones, according to disclosures made by current and former US officials on Friday. This contradicts the widely-held belief that the government is collecting all domestic phone records, and it is likely to raise concerns regarding the reliability and effectiveness of the program. As recent as 2006, the NSA was collecting close to 100 percent of Americans' phone records from a number of US companies. However, as of last summer, that number has fallen below 30 percent as more Americans have increased cellphone usage. While the NSA has obtained approval to gather data on land line calls from certain carriers, it has not yet gone after data from mobile phone calls. In trying to restore the collection, the NSA is preparing to seek court orders [Washington Post report] to compel more wireless companies to turn in their records to the government.

The revelations surrounding NSA surveillance programs [JURIST backgrounder] have sparked worldwide debate and controversy. In late January, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed a motion [JURIST report] on behalf of terror suspect Jamshid Muhtorov to suppress evidence the NSA obtained from surveillance conducted pursuant to the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA) [text, PDF]. Also last month, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) [official website], an independent agency created by Congress to protect American privacy under anti-terrorism laws, issued a report [JURIST report] calling the NSA's metadata program illegal and saying that it should be ended. Earlier in January, US President Barack Obama announced detailed plans [JURIST report] to change surveillance policy, curbing the abilities of intelligence agencies to collect and use American phone data. Also last month the DOJ filed an appeal to a federal district court ruling that held that the NSA program is likely unconstitutional [JURIST reports]. Meanwhile, in December, a federal judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] ruled that the NSA's collection of American citizens' telephone records is legal [JURIST report]. In September the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court released [JURIST report] a previously classified opinion [text, PDF] explaining why an NSA program to keep records of Americans' phone calls is constitutional. Also in September the ACLU urged [JURIST report] the Obama administration to curb the FBI's surveillance powers.

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