Security

NSA claims its phone spying program collects only 20% of U.S. calls

NSA t-shirt
Image Credit: Meghan Kelly/VentureBeat

U.S. officials are now claiming that the National Security Agency’s highly controversial phone spying program isn’t nearly as intrusive as originally reported.

Following leaked information by the exiled Edward Snowden, it was revealed that the NSA’s surveillance program was combing through and storing call data from virtually all U.S. phone communications. However, officials are now saying that the NSA collects between 20 and 30 percent of U.S. call data, according to reports from the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal today.

These claims come despite the NSA’s stance that it needs access to all call data to ensure the country remains safe from terrorist attacks.

So what’s limiting the NSA from collecting more data? Well, apparently the organization doesn’t have access to most cellphone communications. And with landline phones becoming scarce these days, that means phone data collection is probably not very useful. The NSA is also barred from collecting geolocation data, which further limits what it can do with the limited level of cell phone record access it does have.

Critics of the NSA’s photo data collection practices recently got a win after a federal judge ruled that the program was likely unconstitutional. And just last week President Obama gave a speech in which he promised a massive reform of the NSA’s surveillance efforts — including a mandate that the organization no longer hold personal metadata or spy on foreign heads of state.