By Nick Coughlan, BBC News and The Irish Post (Dublin)The United States is in the midst of a major scandal over the extent to which the National Security Agency (NSA) has secretly obtained a trove of personal information from major telecoms companies including AT&T and Verizon.
The National Security Act is being used to justify the collection of this vast amount of information, and its use has been extended to include internet and telephony services.
The law has never been applied to internet service providers (ISPs), and there are concerns that the NSA may have violated the law.
But, given the scale of the information being collected, it is likely to cause the NSA to take significant legal action.
The US has always maintained that it does not have the authority to collect the metadata or phone records of Americans and that the bulk collection of that data is incidental to national security and is only authorized for foreign intelligence purposes.
The NSA’s director of legal affairs, Vanee Vines, told the Senate Judiciary Committee in March that the agency was collecting metadata to target terrorists.
The US Justice Department has also argued that the metadata is only incidental, since it is only used for national security purposes.
It is not clear exactly how much data the NSA has, but it is believed to be between 5% and 25% of all US internet traffic, according to a Reuters analysis of NSA documents.
In total, the NSA collected about 8 million records for each month.
The total amount of metadata collected by the NSA was around 15 million records per month.
The NSA also collected data on phone calls, including the time and duration, location, time and content, and IP addresses.
This data was then processed in a way that it would not identify Americans, but would provide other information, including their phone numbers.
The information could also be used to help identify individuals.
But, the agency also had access to internet and telephone metadata from overseas companies that it did not consider to be Americans, according the Reuters analysis.
According to the documents, the data collected by these companies included the name of the phone company, the address and the telephone number of the customer.
The companies also provided information about the time of the call, the caller’s mobile device and the length of the calls.
The documents also revealed that the data was being stored on servers operated by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) and other US agencies.
The NGA’s headquarters are in Maryland.
“The NSA does not need this data in order to conduct surveillance,” said former NSA general counsel Mike Rogers in a testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee in May.
The revelations come at a sensitive time for US relations with Europe, which has been strained by revelations of US spying on the French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron.
The Snowden revelations are also being used by European politicians, including French President Emmanuel Macron, to pressure Washington.
The Snowden revelations, in turn, have led to calls for a stronger US commitment to the fight against the spread of cyber-terrorism.
However, US officials have denied that the spying is being done on the basis of national security.
“The bulk collection is for intelligence purposes only, and does not involve the collection or use of any U.S. person’s information or metadata for foreign purposes,” said a spokesman for the NSA, General Keith Alexander.
“As is the case with all intelligence activities, the content of any metadata or records collected is not shared with foreign intelligence services,” he added.US President Donald Trump has also rejected calls for US surveillance to be stopped.
“This is about protecting our nation and defending our values,” he said in a statement.
“In no way do we have the right to spy on our own citizens or others without a court order.”
In June, US Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina told the US Senate that “this is about more than just protecting our security.
This is about defending our civil liberties.”
Mr Burr said the US government was “not going to stand idly by” when other nations were using the same tools to spy as it was.
“We cannot allow the use of this collection and analysis for foreign security purposes,” he told reporters.
“If it is the right thing to do, the US Congress should act on it.”
The NSA is not the only US agency that has collected metadata.
The British spy agency GCHQ has been conducting electronic surveillance since 2003 and has said it has collected “a very substantial amount” of data on European citizens.
In May, the UK’s chief information watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office, warned that GCHQ’s “surveillance activities are in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Data Protection Directive”.
The watchdog said that the collection and storage of information on European residents “is a violation of their rights to privacy”.GCHQ was not available for comment.
Follow Nick Coughtale on Twitter: @Coughtale