Fears that the National Security Agency (News - Alert) has an all-seeing eye when it comes to call records may be unwarranted, according to recent data leaked by anonymous sources connected with the government who spoke to The Wall Street Journal. They made the claim that the NSA only collects around 20 percent of American call records, which contradicts the implications of wide-spread data sweeps from Edward Snowden's reveal. In fact, the anonymous sources even claim that the NSA has an outdated program that is in desperate need of modernization.
Apparently, the recent decline in the use of traditional landline phone systems, thanks to mobile phone technology and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), has made it very difficult for the NSA to adapt. While traditional cell phones still transmit phone data through easily-intercepted radio waves that are then relayed to the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), VoIP calls instead use the Internet to relay phone calls. Already, VoIP is being used in businesses around the country, as well as in residences.
VoIP calls are also sent as encrypted data. While the original purpose of this is to compress the files down to a size that takes up incredibly small amounts of bandwidth, it also carries the extra benefit of making the calls difficult to record directly. However, much of what the NSA is after does not necessarily pertain to the content of the calls, as much they are interested who is calling who. VoIP phone systems make this difficult to track as well, since individual data packets follow separate routes in order to find the lowest-traffic channels available.
Ultimately, it is much more difficult for the NSA to record calls directly than it is for them to collect call records, which they can do by asking service providers to simply hand the information over. It is unknown how reliable these anonymous sources are when they say that the NSA is only collecting such a small subset of call records, but if they are to be believed then more of us will be able to breathe easy and speak freely, knowing that there's only a small chance that our calls are actually being collected.
Edited by Alisen Downey