New reports say NSA phone tracking covers 20-30 percent of calls

The NSA’s phone monitoring and collection policies might not be quite as widespread as previously thought, if new reports in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post are to be believed. According to their sources, 20-30 percent of call metadata is logged, and the majority of mobile phones are excluded from the government’s information dragnet.

However, it’s not through the lack of trying: the Post says the National Security Agency has been caught on the hop by the explosion in cellphone use, and is currently trying to negotiate new deals with wireless companies. According to a senior U.S. official, the NSA was collecting close to 100 percent of phone record data in 2006, but this level has now dropped significantly. The data in question does not include the content of conversations.

Over at the Journal the figure is pegged at 20 percent. As the Verge notes, the agency’s efforts to expand and modernize its program have been delayed by the need to filter out cellphone location data, which it is not permitted to keep. Again, the report suggests that “most” mobile phone records aren’t included in the NSA’s data collection procedures.

Unsurprisingly, official statements from the NSA are few and far between, so the Post and the Journal are relying on anonymous tip-offs for their information about the NSA’s current activities. Last month the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board recommended that the agency’s phone-tapping operations should be shut down, while President Obama has promised to review the ways in which metadata is collected and used in the future.

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