The NSA issued the most opaque Transparency Report in history on Friday, avoiding to actually tell us how many people it spies on since the word “target” covers any number of individuals.
Aside from the agency’s ambiguous references to how one single target can refer to a single person, a group, an organization or an entire foreign power, the NSA also revealed just how many Americans it targeted in 2013.
According to the Transparency Report, the NSA issued 178 FISA Business Records applications. These are used to allow collection of business records to obtain information about a specific subject and to collect business records in bulk.
“Accordingly, in the interest of transparency, we have decided to clarify the extent to which individuals are affected by each use. In addition, instead of reporting on the number of Business Record orders, the government is reporting on the number of applications submitted to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court because the FISC may issue several orders to different recipients based upon a particular application,” the file reads.
Therefore, the 178 applications affect 172 individuals, entities, or foreign powers, 433 selectors that were approved to be queried under the NSA telephony metadata program. Also, 248 people who are known or presumed US persons were subject of queries of information collected in bulk or to a business records application.
This is a pretty important element in the entire NSA scandal because, as everyone knows by now not only through the leaked materials from Edward Snowden, but also based on the statements made by various intelligence directors, the agency collect millions of records every day.
In fact, it doesn’t just collect millions of records from a select few, it collects all phone call metadata from Americans and keeps the data for a long period, regardless of whether it needs the information for an investigation or not. The entire trove of data, in fact, is held “just in case” it needs to go through it to look at a certain individual.
The metadata collection program has been the most talked about topic in the United States, while the rest of the world has concerned itself about the many other programs that the NSA uses to spy on people. It has also been one of the very few that the Obama administration has even promised to reform, with the president saying that the NSA will no longer hold onto the metadata, but rather a third party, as if that makes it more difficult for the agency to get its hands on the information.