The National Security Agency is adequately protecting Americans’ civil liberties and privacy as it shifts to a new intelligence collection program, it claimed in a transparency report released on Friday.
“The government has strengthened privacy safeguards by, among other things, ending the collection of telephone metadata in bulk,” the agency claimed, “and having telecommunications providers, pursuant to court orders, hold and query the data.”
Phone metadata are records about which two numbers are involved in a call, when it occurred and how long the call lasted. The records do not contain information about what was discussed in the conversation.
Under the former system, the NSA collected phone records from millions of Americans and then combed through them to search for individual numbers it believed were connected to a terrorist or foreign government.
After a tough fight on Capitol Hill last year, the agency abandoned that system in November and moved to a new program in which it requested a narrow band of records from private phone companies. Then, using the initial batch of phone numbers that the target has called, the agency goes back to the phone companies to see which numbers those people have been in contact with in order to search two “hops” out from the target.
In carrying out that process, the NSA satisfies principles of transparency, oversight and others critical to ensuring the public’s privacy rights, its civil liberties and privacy office claimed in Friday’s report.
The new program has become the subject of fierce debate on the presidential campaign trail, where Republican candidates Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSchumer moves to break GOP blockade on Biden's State picks Bipartisan senators to hold hearing on 'toxic conservatorships' amid Britney Spears controversy GOP senators seek to block dishonorable discharges for unvaccinated troops MORE and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Dems attempt to tie government funding, Ida relief to debt limit Poll: Trump dominates 2024 Republican primary field Milley says calls to China were 'perfectly within the duties' of his job MORE have repeatedly sparred over the merits of the reform. Cruz co-sponsored legislation to reform the NSA last year, while Rubio was a vigorous opponent.
Earlier this month, the NSA said that it was “confident” in its abilities to protect national security under the new system.