The U.S. National Security Agency has drastically increased its collection of phone records according to an intelligence agency report released late last week. In 2017, it gathered over 534 million records of calls and texts from U.S. cellphone providers such as AT&T and Verizon. That's over triple the amount collected in 2016, when the total came to more than 151 million. The increase is notable as it comes in the second full year of a new surveillance system which was established to limit the NSA collecting such records in bulk.
That change was made by Congress in 2015 when the USA Freedom Act overhauled NSA access to data from domestic telecommunication companies. Prior to that law, the NSA collected billions of U.S. phone records every single day and it came to light after leaks from Edward Snowden in 2013. That initiated a debate about government surveillance which resulted in Congress shutting down the old program.
The level of data collected by the NSA under the new system is still far less than the billions of records harvested in the past and it only takes into account "call detail records". That's defined as telecom metadata that logs phone numbers as well as calling or texting times without revealing the content of the conversations. Nevertheless, privacy advocates are still voicing concern about the extent of government surveillance and intrusion into the lives of American citizens.