New documents, released by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, reveal the existence of that agency’s ability to collect and listen to 100 percent of the phone calls within a targeted nation according to The Washington Post.
The voice interception program, known as MYSTIC, began in 2009 and was first used to target an undisclosed nation in 2011. The program utilizes a “retrospective retrieval” tool referred to in the documents as RETRO. Planning documents regarding the program detail plans to use the technology in other countries.
In a Washington Times story, one U.S. official said the technology acts like a “time machine” and allows the NSA to go back and listen to phone calls as old as 30 days.
Jameel Jaffer, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union, called the revelations “chilling” in a USA Today story.
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“The NSA has always wanted to record everything, and now it has the capacity to do so," he said. "The question now is simply whether we have the political will to impose reasonable limits on the NSA's authority – that is, whether we have the political will to protect our democratic freedoms.”
The news of the program also raises questions as to whether President Barack Obama was being truthful in a January speech when he said the U.S. government did not spy on ordinary citizens.
"Now let me be clear: our intelligence agencies will continue to gather information about the intentions of governments – as opposed to ordinary citizens – around the world, in the same way that the intelligence services of every other nation does," Obama said at the time.
NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines would not confirm or deny the existence of the program.
"NSA does not conduct signals intelligence collection in any country, or anywhere in the world, unless it is necessary to advance U.S. national security and foreign policy interests and to protect its citizens and the citizens of its allies and partners from harm,” she said in a statement.
Others believe that programs like MYSTIC go to far.
Greg Nojeim, of the Center for Democracy and Technology, said, "It's time for the United States to begin honoring its global human rights obligations and enact legal reforms that set reasonable limits on foreign surveillance practices."