The National Security Agency is capable of recording all calls from an entire country, according to newly reported leaks from whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Last March, the Washington Post speculated that the NSA technically had this ability, but now, the new leaks confirm that officials have been successfully testing it in the sunny Bahamas, as well as Mexico, the Philippines, and Kenya.
“Nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” said President Barack Obama last year. This statement might only be completely true for people who don’t vacation in the Bahamas or other countries where the U.S. is partially deploying this new technology.
This country-wide surveillance is also being deployed in one other country, but NSA-focused blog The Intercept, which broke the news, has decided to censor the name of that country due to the threat of increased violence.
The top-secret program is code-named SOMALGET and MYSTIC and is used by the NSA “to gather personal data on mobile calls placed in countries with a combined population of more than 250 million people,” according to The Intercept.
Previously, the NSA got in hot water for collecting all call record data, but now it appears they can collect the contents of the calls themselves.
“I used to work in DEA’s office of chief counsel, and I was their lead specialist on lawful surveillance matters. I wasn’t aware of anything like this,” said Joel Margolis, former Drug Enforcement Agency official now working at a private company, in a conversation with VentureBeat.
In a controversial move, there is another country that is also on the list, but “The Intercept is not naming in response to specific, credible concerns that doing so could lead to increased violence.”
This immediately drew criticism from Wikileaks:
We condemn Firstlook for following the Washington Post into censoring the mass interception of an entire nation https://t.co/jTKVNCK5BJ— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) May 19, 2014
The second country isn't Mexico, Kenya or the Philippines, and is violent enough that FirstLook was convinced to redact its name.— matt blaze (@mattblaze) May 19, 2014
The future of the NSA’s capabilities will eventually be decided by Congress. Right now, legislators are deciding on a bill, the USA Freedom Act, that would effectively eliminate the bulk collection of phone calls by the government.
But given that this is an election year, several senior-level staff tell us Congress is unlikely to decide on anything big. So, we’ll all likely be following the development of surveillance law for the next year.