The NSA’s Massive Call Record Surveillance Program Barely Accomplishes Anything

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So how effective is the NSA’s massive program to collect call records for every phone call made in the United States? Today they told us:

John C. Inglis, the deputy director of the N.S.A., said there had been 13 investigations in which the domestic call tracking program made a “contribution.” He cited two discoveries: that several men in San Diego were sending money to a terrorist group in Somalia, and that a suspect who was already under scrutiny in a subway bomb plot was using a different phone.

Assuming generously that we’re talking only about the program’s current incarnation, which dates from 2006, that’s about two investigations per year in which it made a “contribution.” And if the two plots they’re willing to talk about are typical, those contributions are pretty damn meager.

If the call record program were stopping 9/11-style events, or jumbo jets being brought down over the Atlantic, we might all hold our noses and decide that the loss of privacy and the cost of the program was worth it. But for two modest “contributions” per year? That doesn’t really sound like a hard call.

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