The US National Security Agency (NSA) has released a transparency report claiming that its updated phone surveillance regime meets the civil liberty and privacy standards of the recently enacted USA Freedom Act.
The Freedom Act, signed into law by president Barack Obama in June, replaced the much-criticised US Patriot Act and has since forced the NSA to rethink how it conducts surveillance.
As a result, the agency officially shut down its previous bulk phone collection programme on 28 November when the law officially came into effect.
The changes followed the disclosures of ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013 which exposed vast spying programmes including PRISM and X-Keyscore that collected phone call metadata and internet records of American citizens in bulk.
The NSA's Civil Liberties and Privacy Office (CLPO), set up in 2014 after the agency came under heavy fire for invasive snooping, said that the report is an attempt to document the safeguards and highlight a new attitude of transparency.
However, any critics hoping that the report would reveal a U-turn in snooping strategy are likely to be disappointed.
"NSA's goal under the USA Freedom Act remains the same as that under its professor programme: to collect, analyse and disseminate foreign intelligence information and international terrorist threats," the report stated.
"The government has strengthened privacy safeguards by, among others things, ending the collection of telephone metadata in bulk and having telecoms providers, pursuant to court orders, hold and query the data."
The report outlines the NSA's analysis of a number of concerns, including personal spying consent, the security of data held by the agency, transparency measures and so-called data minimisation.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the CLPO concludes that, in most instances, the NSA "satisfies the standards" set by the Freedom Act.
The report outlined the new surveillance apparatus supposedly used by the agency and showed a flow-chart describing how the NSA obtains call data records, known as metadata, and how it targets and monitors collected phone numbers.
One notable change described in the report, now enforced by the Freedom Act, requires the government to publish "metrics" on how it uses and collects phone records. "The Office of Director of National Intelligence plans to report these metrics via the annual transparency report," the CLPO stated.
Additionally, "data minimisation" procedures in the Freedom Act now require the NSA to "destroy promptly" any metadata records that are determined not to contain foreign intelligence information.
However, the NSA's self-appointed internal watchdog said that some privacy aspects, such as rules around notifying individuals if they have been monitored by the agency, are not possible under any regime.
"The very fact that the government suspects that a particular person is engaged in international terrorism or that a particular phone number is being used by such a person must be kept secret in the interests of national security," the report noted.
"If a target of an international terrorism investigation becomes aware of the investigation, he or she will take steps to thwart investigators."
However, the report fails to mention how the agency will collect, retain or take advantage of other forms of metadata taken from internet communications.
In any case, the NSA paper claimed that the new snooping system is accountable, and adheres to the privacy and data security standards set forward in the latest US legislation.
"Taken together, NSA's training, compliance and oversight mechanisms satisfy the principle of accountability and auditing," it concluded.
The Snowden revelations have had ramifications across the globe, and many governments have sought to update spying laws.
Most recently, the UK government published the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill that seeks to strengthen the powers and spying capabilities available to police, intelligence agencies and the government while bringing all previous surveillance legislation under one law.
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