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German Intelligence Agency BND Collects 220 Million Phone Records A Day

Friday, May 22nd, 2015

German intelligence agency BND is collecting about 220 million metadata phone records from foreigners per day, a figure far higher than what most security experts had presumed. The details of BND’s exploits were uncovered by the journalist Kai Biermann and published by the German weekly “Die Zeit” in a recent issue. And it is not the first time when the German intelligence agency is under fire for its surveillance tactics either; it was in the news last year as well after being accused of spying on German citizens through a legal loophole.

As per the details made available by Die Zeit, BND gathers millions of pieces of information about foreign phone calls and SMS’ on a daily basis. Kal says that the agency is free to collect metadata records of international calls though it is forbidden by law to capture details about telecom traffic originating and terminating within Germany. It was not immediately clear how BND was able to capture so much data but the agency has been accused of tapping internet cables and satellite communications in the past. The weekly also said that the captured data was being stored at five different locations within the country.

The news article once again sheds a light on the extent of co-operation between BND and the American intelligence agency NSA. While Kal said that the Germany agency provides a part of the captured data to the NSA, it was revealed last year that BND sends as many as 500 million records per month to the American agency under a single spying program alone. The report also says that while the agency destroys a big portion of the collected data within weeks, it retains about 1 percent of records (2 million) for long term analysis for an extended period of time (as much as 10 years).

The German government has declined to comment on the article published by Die Zeit. The government spokesperson didn’t confirm the source of the leak or whether there was a leak at all and merely said that the government was taking all precautions to ensure the confidentiality of classified data. Here I would also like to point out that the German government had announced increase in surveillance in the aftermath of Paris terror attacks but as the Die Zeit report shows, the government is already collecting far more data than it should.

The news report also shows how the intelligence agencies are brushing aside the concerns regarding the collection of metadata. Since metadata doesn’t capture the actual content of the calls or SMS’, intelligence agencies get to defend their surveillance strategies by claiming that they are not doing anything wrong by collecting date, time, location and sender/receiver details. However, metadata collection over a period of time can help to build a person’s profile as well as reveal accurate information about his contacts, daily routine and movements. NSA has already admitted that they plan drone strikes based on the metadata information which shows how vital the information is to the intelligence agencies.

Civil liberty groups have strongly condemned BND’s actions and mindless collection of data. Most privacy advocates said that there was no evidence that mass surveillance actually helps in preventing terror strikes and also added that unless there are international safeguards in place, intelligence agencies would continue to collect data on one pretext or another.

May 22, 2015

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