NSA improperly collected even more call records than we thought

Months after it admitted error and deleted 600 million records, the NSA violated federal laws once again.

According to documents obtained by the ACLU, the NSA's problem of collecting unauthorized American phone call data is worse than we first thought. Last May, the NSA deleted more than 600 million call records that it collected in error. The agency claimed that telecoms shared information on calls unrelated to NSA targets, and in doing so, violated federal laws. To be safe, the NSA dumped a massive amount of call records and said it had gotten to the "root cause" of the problem. But a report released by the ACLU, states that just a few months later, the NSA once again obtained information about Americans' phone calls that it was not authorized to collect under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

The report finds that the NSA improperly collected call record data in November 2017, February 2018 and again in October 2018. The October violation suggests the over-collection problems persisted (or new ones arose) even after the NSA admitted its error, and it might have had something to do with the NSA's formal recommendation that the White House drop the phone surveillance program. According to the ACLU, the government said the improper collections had a "significant impact on civil liberties and privacy."

"These documents further confirm that this surveillance program is beyond redemption and a privacy and civil liberties disaster," said Patrick Toomey, staff attorney with the ACLU's National Security Project. The USA Freedom Act, a scaled down version of the Patriot Act, is set to expire in December, and the information revealed by the ACLU will undoubtedly contribute to the debate over whether or not to renew it. Regardless of the outcome, the NSA will likely continue sweeping up Americans' call record data. The agency doesn't have a good track record, and in 2018, the NSA conducted nearly 10,000 warrantless search queries of Americans' calls, texts and emails -- records that were swept up with intelligence on foreigners living overseas.