THE UNITED STATES National Security Agency (NSA) reportedly can record all phone calls made in foreign countries, and has been doing so since 2009.
Citing sources with direct knowledge and documents supplied by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the Washington Post reported on Tuesday that the NSA has built a surveillance system capable of recording "100 percent" of a foreign country's telephone calls.
The system is recording "every single" telephone conversation nationwide, the newspaper reported, adding that it stores billions of phone calls in a 30-day rolling buffer that clears the oldest calls as new ones arrive.
Apparently the first bulk data collection system of its kind, it allows the NSA to review any phone conversation up to a month later, without the people involved in it having been identified. The NSA reportedly does this using a voice interception programme called MYSTIC that it has been using since 2009.
The Washington Post reported that the NSA's "retrospective retrieval" tool, known as 'RETRO', reached full capacity against the first target nation in 2011, which the newspaper did not name at the request of US officials, and said that it has seen documents that show similar operations were planned elsewhere.
The NSA refused to comment to the newspaper about "specific alleged intelligence activities", but a spokeperson said that "continuous and selective reporting of specific techniques and tools used for legitimate US foreign intelligence activities is highly detrimental to the national security of the United States and of our allies, and places at risk those we are sworn to protect."
Since this story broke, civil liberties organisations have said that the news is "a truly chilling revelation".
"It's one that underscores how high the stakes are in the debate we're now having about bulk surveillance," said Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union to Reuters.
This revelation comes after it was revealed previously that the NSA collects 'hundreds of millions' of text messages every day from all corners of the globe. µ