back to article NSA sought data on 534 MILLION phone calls in 2017

The United States’ Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released its annual Intelligence Community Transparency Report last Friday, revealing the extent of America’s domestic intelligence-gathering efforts. Those efforts are certainly quite extensive. The report says America’s national security agencies …

  1. imanidiot Silver badge

    That's on average 17130 records per search term. Even with duplicated data that seems like a LOT for a "reasonable, targeted" investigation.

    1. JohnFen

      It sure does. It's pretty clear that this is not actually reasonable and targeted. This is blanket domestic surveillance.

      1. hplasm

        "This is blanket domestic surveillance."

        Land. Of. The. Free...

    2. Bruce Ordway

      Seems like a lot

      The thought of being a the target of NSA searches is kind of terrifying.

      However, I'm not sure I should be too concerned about my calls inadvertently showing up as noise in search results due to the criteria being too broad.

      Yes the numbers do seem big but... it would be nice if they could be put in some kind of perspective.

      I really wonder how these correspond to the total number of calls and size of populations.

      Maybe someone here knows where to find the information needed to put the report in better context?

      I did find one study on calls that I found interesting but it didn't really help answer my questions.

      1. Chairman of the Bored

        Re: Seems like a lot

        Perspective? CIA World Fact Book claims US has about 121 million landline phones and about 396 million cell phones. Internet users somewhere around 287 million. Population is about 326 million, gowing 0.81pct annually.

        I absolutely cannot remember the reference but I seem to recall the total call volume is in the ballpark of 6 billion per day, as of around 2010.

        So, big numbers.

  2. elawyn

    I wish they'd use that stuff to track down the asshats that call my landline multiple times a day using faked caller id (especially the ones that pretend to be on the same local exchange), then send in a drone strike...

    1. Fungus Bob
      Thumb Up

      Now *that* would be useful...

  3. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Ain't technology wonderful ?

    "The report says America’s national security agencies sought 534,396,285 call detail records in calendar 2017"

    Seems to me they're drowning themselves in data. It is just not possible that their search criteria is sufficiently precise to yield actionable data.

    Good.They'll be spending valuable tax dollars searching for eff all, while actual innocent people will suffer no consequences.

    Hey, if you can't beat 'em, you can drown 'em in irrelevant data.

  4. Will Godfrey Silver badge


    I'm tempted to ask if they are trying to profile the entire country.

    ... but I'm not sure I want to know the answer!

  5. Dan 55 Silver badge

    New MAGA freedom search criteria as from next year

    SELECT * FROM call_records WHERE 1=1;

  6. tekHedd

    That they admitted to.

    I just assume all call data is archived, made available, and used. With the NSA a more or less completely opaque organization this is the only reasonable assumption.

    You'll notice that I'm not panicking. But to think otherwise would be naive.

  7. Wolfclaw
    Big Brother

    Good to see the NSA making good use of the billions of dollars they get, even it does show they are being abusive of theirs powers and just hoovering up data as they see fit and legal comeback ! Wonder what a report on how many overseas requests to other intelligence agaencies for spying on Americans would show up ?

  8. BebopWeBop

    Securing 1,437 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) “Probable Cause” Court Orders that would allow electronic surveillance, of approximately 1,337 targets, 299 of them Americans;

    12,762 National Security letters that would allow investigators to obtain phone, credit, or financial records;

    33 authorisations to use electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes;

    77 requests for business records

    Ok, so that deals with Trump, his administration and associates. Now what about the rest of the US?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    22,360 v's 31,196 search terms.

    Kill,murder,death,bomb,stab,shoot and tickle.

    What else can there be and why the increase in terms?

    Dear Americans,

    You have a constitution for a reason, use it and stop this bullshit.


    Concerned Briton.

    P.S. Can you look after your chickens properly after brexit please?

  10. lglethal Silver badge

    "Securing 1,437 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) “Probable Cause” Court Orders that would allow electronic surveillance, of approximately 1,337 targets, 299 of them Americans;"

    I have absolutely no background in international spying or policing, but they only had just over 1000 new non-Americans in a year that they wanted to spy on? That seems an incredibly small number.

    I suppose that could mean that on the foreign stuff they are actually pretty focused, and its just on the domestic side where they just want everyones data, all the time, without any actual real focus/point to it.

    I could be reading that wrong though. It could be that after searching 500,000,000 phone records, they only had to time to follow up on the first 1000 bad guys they found...

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    1. Find all the calls in city A on date d1. (Millions)

    2. Find all the calls in city B on date d2. (Millions)

    3. Intersect on mobile number, to reveal the one/ten/hundred people who colud have been involved in the event in A on d1 AND the event in B on d2.

    If the published numbers are recording the millions in lines 1 and 2, this doesn’t look to crazy.

    And they prpbably are storing that data because when the event in city C on date d3 comes along, you don’t want to find that the d1 data has been lost.

  12. Alistair


    Canada, population 37M. Large carrier.

    CDR input volume, one city, one day, one carrier, and only one of 8 lines of business. > 1.5B cdr's -- once one starts to include motion and notational CDRs in LTE and VOIP QI CDRs.

    CDRs are no longer *solely* "call connected between unit a and unit b" - what gets collected goes *way way* beyond that now.

    Considering the US is 330+ Million folks, 8 or 9 carrier/LOB and a dozen or so MVNO's, and I think a per capita of 3 phones per body, those numbers *really* aren't that big.

  13. DiViDeD

    OK, so I'm a child

    But I just thought it was appropriate that they hit on 1337 targets as an estimate.

    How elite h4xx0r is that?

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Complete lack of understanding of the situation

    At any given moment there are thousands of criminals and terrorists under surveillance. Digital crime has skyrocketed because the crims are technically years ahead of OS makers, software purveyors and authorities who are out numbered 10,000 to 1 by the crims. With computers sorting data only the most blatant is captured for review by humans. Thus the crims have little to be concerned about, especially Snowden who is doomed to live a shortened life for being a traitor to the U.S. and an indirect supporter of crime.

  15. tom dial Silver badge

    The CTIA (1) shows a graph indicating 396 million connections, which seems in the context to be wireless telephones. A Pew study from 2010 (2) reports an estimate of about 5 calls per day for each cell phone. On the assumption that a number did not decrease significantly over the next 7 years it seems likely that the NSA collection reported amounts to well under a tenth of a percent of all US cell calls for the year, and a smaller fraction of all US telephone calls. That would have been a bit under 2 billion calls daily, and I have seen an estimate of 6 billion daily, although without references.

    The numbers are large, but as a proportion of the total they certainly do not indicate serious mass surveillance of US persons. Although it is somewhat a matter of taste, it is not clear they even qualify as "quite extensive." Numbers of US targets are similarly unsupportive of mass surveillance, as is the information about probable cause orders, targets, and search terms.

    The report is interesting, though, and good on The Register for linking it. Too few reports on such things do that. Indeed, a quick search suggests the Washington Post and New York Times considered the report too inconsequential to mention. In fact The Register seems to have the first non-government article (known to Google) on the 2017 report .

    (1) At,

    (2) At

  16. I&I

    If datamining (learning, testing, applying) then they need “background” (norms) as well as “foreground” (baddies).

    “Miiisster Griiimmmsdale!!!”

  17. GnuTzu

    Excuses -- Unexcusable

    Whatever the current technical limitation preventing de-dupping, there must be a way to fix it so that excuses are impossible, and they must be required to fix it.

    They can't be allowed to have technology if it has limitations that allow them to make excusses. They must be required to fix the technology so that there are no excuses--whether it be de-dupping issues or otherwise.

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