Click for the latest news and analysis on the NSA.
The NSA did not directly comment on the reports but said in a statement that the communications of those who were not "valid foreign intelligence targets" were not of interest to the spy agency. Britain’s GCHQ said it did not comment on intelligence matters, but insisted that all of its activity was "authorized, necessary and proportionate."
Earlier this month, President Barack Obama called on the federal government to curtail its collection of phone data from millions of Americans, ordering intelligence agencies to obtain permission from the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court before accessing such records.
"The reforms I'm proposing today should give the American people greater confidence that their rights are being protected, even as our intelligence and law enforcement agencies maintain the tools they need to keep us safe," he said in a speech at the Justice Department on Jan 17.
If fully implemented, Obama’s directive would significantly change the NSA’s ability to collect bulk data from phone records. The president gave intelligence agencies 60 days to recommend options for storing already retrieved bulk data.
Obama has defended surveillance programs, revealed over the past six months, as necessary tools in the fight against terrorism. But recently he has attempted to straddle the line between intelligence gathering agencies and privacy advocates, saying he understands that the public is concerned about privacy.
The scale of the data collection from phone apps, as reported by the Times and ProPublica on Monday, is not clear. Nor do the secret documents address how many users may be affected and how often. But the two spy agencies regularly scoop up data from smartphones, according to the reports, generating such a massive volume of digital traces left by mobile phones that classified NSA computers had trouble storing it all.
"N.S.A. does not profile everyday Americans as it carries out its foreign intelligence mission," the agency told the Times in a written response. "Because some data of U.S. persons may at times be incidentally collected in N.S.A.'s lawful foreign intelligence mission, privacy protections for U.S. persons exist across the entire process."
With wire services