For instance, the primary order states that only “appropriately trained and authorized personnel” may have access to the records, which consist of phone numbers of calls made and received, their time and duration, but not names and content. Officials call this metadata. The order also states that to query the data, there must be “reasonable, articulable suspicion,” presumably that the number is linked to a foreign terrorist group.
But the documents fueled more concern about the program’s scope among civil liberties advocates who are pressing the administration to release the legal rationale that might explain what makes such large numbers of records relevant to an authorized investigation. Perhaps most alarming to some critics was the disclosure, in the order, that queries of the metadata return results that are placed into a “corporate store” that may then be searched for foreign intelligence purposes with fewer restrictions.
That disclosure takes on significance in light of Deputy NSA Director John C. Inglis’s testimony last month that analysts could extend their searches by “three hops.” That means that starting from a target’s phone number, analysts can search on the phone numbers of people in contact with the target, then the numbers of people in contact with that group, and then the numbers of people in contact with that larger pool. That is potentially millions of people, said Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, who also testified Wednesday.