Cellphones have made NSA's job tougher

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The National Security Agency can't keep up with cellphone use and collects less than 30 percent of Americans’ phone call data, according to a report Friday in The Washington Post.

Current and former United States officials told the Post the NSA only gathers between 20 and 30 percent of Americans’ call records, a much smaller amount than what had previously been assumed.

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Unidentified officials quoted in the story indicated that the NSA acquired almost all phone records from US companies in 2006. As of last summer, however, the collection amount dropped to about 30 percent, the Post’s report says. 

The program’s drawdown reflects Americans’ increasing use of cellphones compared to landline phones, and that the NSA doesn’t have the capability to keep up with cellphone calls. 

From 2009 to 2012, people stopped using about 31 million landlines, the Post reports, based on government figures. The number of cellphones jumped from 255 million in 2007 to 326 million in 2012.

The report comes two days after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved the Obama administration’s motion to modify the NSA’s domestic metadata program. 

It granted President Obama’s request to limit the number of records NSA officials inspect. They would also be required to get a court order before viewing records.

Obama announced last month he wanted these phone call records to be moved out of the government’s hands. He tasked Attorney General Eric Holder with determining who or what entity might hold the data in the future. Holder is expected to make a decision in March. 

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has been critical of NSA's practices, says the Post's report isn't comforting. 

"I don't find this revelation very reassuring. To accept their legal reasoning is to accept that they will eventually collect everything, even if they're not doing so already. They're arguing that they have the right to collect it all," ACLU's deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer said in a statement.