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Report: NSA Can Record, Store Phone Conversations Of Whole Countries

The National Security Agency logo.
Nicolas Armer /DPA/LANDOV
The National Security Agency logo.

The United States has the capability to record "100 percent" of a country's phone calls, The Washington Post reports today citing people "with direct knowledge" and documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

According to the paper, the U.S. keeps those recordings for a month. The paper adds:

"A senior manager for the program compares it to a time machine — one that can replay the voices from any call without requiring that a person be identified in advance for surveillance.

"The voice interception program, called MYSTIC, began in 2009. Its RETRO tool, short for 'retrospective retrieval,' and related projects reached full capacity against the first target nation in 2011. Planning documents two years later anticipated similar operations elsewhere.

"In the initial deployment, collection systems are recording 'every single' conversation nationwide, storing billions of them in a 30-day rolling buffer that clears the oldest calls as new ones arrive, according to a classified summary.

"The call buffer opens a door 'into the past,' the summary says, enabling users to 'retrieve audio of interest that was not tasked at the time of the original call.' Analysts listen to only a fraction of 1 percent of the calls, but the absolute numbers are high. Each month, they send millions of voice clippings, or "cuts," for processing and long-term storage."
Jameel Jaffer, the American Civil Liberties Union deputy legal director, called the report "chilling."

"The NSA has always wanted to record everything, and now it has the capacity to do so," Jaffer said in statement. "The question now is simply whether we have the political will to impose reasonable limits on the NSA's authority — that is, whether we have the political will to protect our democratic freedoms."


Of course, this program seems to contradict how President Obama described the NSA's spying programs.

During a speech in January, Obama said "the United States is not spying on ordinary people who don't threaten our national security and that we take their privacy concerns into account in our policies and procedures."

But, as the Post describes the program, it is indiscriminate in its surveillance.

"No other NSA program disclosed to date has swallowed a nation's telephone network whole," the Post reports.