The National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] published a report [text] Tuesday saying that the agency had collected and stored more than 1.5 million civilian phone records in 2016. This report is the first that has been issued since the implementation of the USA Freedom Act [text, PDF] in 2015, which was designed to reduce the number of phone records collected. The report details other information including the number of National Security Letters issued by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) [official website], the amount of call event metadata that was searched and the number of orders that were issued to search business record. Parts of the USA Freedom Act were implemented as portions of the Patriot Act expired and was intended to implement new limits on the bulk collection of telecommunication metadata on US citizens and restore authorization for roving wiretaps and tracking lone wolf terrorists.
The use of communication surveillance continues to be a security rights issue in many countries. In March, the New York Police Department reached a settlement over its surveillance of Muslims [JURIST report]. The new settlement would create greater oversight of the NYPD’s intelligence-gathering programs by a civilian representative. In the original rejection of the case, the judge stated that the agreement did not ensure that the NYPD would be limited in how it could monitor political and religious activity. In January, a judge for the US District Court for the District of Utah refused to dismiss a complaint against the NSA [JURIST report] over allegations of warrantless surveillance during the 2002 winter Olympic games. The case includes individuals who allege their communication devices were searched and seized by the NSA during the games. That same month, the European Commission proposed rules [JURIST report] to bolster electronic communications as well as to “create new possibilities to process communication data and reinforce trust and security.” The European Court of Justice ruled [JURIST report] in December that “[g]eneral and indiscriminate retention” of e-mails and other electronic communications by governments is illegal, in a decision that many believe could create an opportunity for challenges to the UK’s Investigatory Powers Bill.