March 19, 2014

White House won't comment on report of NSA 'time machine'

White House press secretary Jay Carney refused to discuss a new report that claims the National Security Agency can record the entirety of a country's phone calls and replay them later.

The NSA has the capability to record “100 percent” of calls in a foreign nation, according to the Washington Post, which cited documents provided by former government contractor Edward Snowden.

The U.S. government stores the information for 30 days and the technology is being employed to monitor communications in at least one foreign nation. The Post, at the request of U.S. officials, decided not to identify the country where the surveillance is being used.

According to the report, intelligence officials are able to rewind and replay phone conversations from within the last month. A manager for the program likened it to a time machine, the Post said.

Carney, in his daily briefing with reporters, said that the administration does not comment on media reports on a case-by-case basis.

President Obama has ordered Attorney General Eric Holder to report back to him by the end of the month on how to transition the government away from storing the metadata collected by the NSA. However, telecommunications companies have balked at housing the information.

In a statement, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said threats are “often hidden within the large and complex system of modern global communications, and the United States must consequently collect signals intelligence in bulk in certain circumstances in order to identify these threats.”

Obama has bent over backwards to argue that Americans need not worry about the government listening in on their phone calls. The latest revelation, privacy advocates say, puts that contention in doubt.

Though the surveillance method in question is aimed at foreign targets, Americans' data can easily get swept up in the searches.

Civil liberties groups have raised concerns about the systematic collection of wide swaths of data, saying terror investigations need to be more targeted to ensure that Americans’ privacy rights aren't violated.

According to the Post, a project officer wrote that the program “has long since reached the point where it was collecting and sending home far more than the bandwidth could handle.”

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