America's National Security Agency has developed an accurate tool for documenting and examining where intelligence information comes from, The Guardian reported Saturday.
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The British newspaper said it had obtained top-secret documents about the NSA data-mining tool, called Boundless Informant, that "details and even maps by country the voluminous amount of information it collects from computer and telephone networks."
This tool reportedly focuses on the classification of communication records, known as metadata, as opposed to Internet content or emails. According to The Guardian, the obtained documents reveal that the NSA collected "almost 3 billion pieces of intelligence from U.S. computer networks over a 30-day period ending in March 2013."
The Guardian said that a confidential "global heat map" showing a snapshot of the tool indicates that most of the NSA intelligence collected was on Iran, with 14 billion reports, followed by 13.5 billion on Pakistan and then Jordan and Egypt.
The debate over whether the U.S. government is violating citizens' privacy rights while trying to protect them from terrorism escalated dramatically on Thursday amid reports that authorities have collected data on millions of phone users and tapped into servers at nine internet companies.
A secret program called PRISM is the leading source of raw material for the National Security Agency, the secretive U.S. intelligence operation that monitors electronic communications.
U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on Saturday criticized media reports about the large-scale government collection of private internet data.
"Over the last week we have seen reckless disclosures of intelligence community measures used to keep Americans safe," he said in a statement.
U.S. intelligence services tapped directly into the servers of at least nine leading internet companies including Google, Facebook, Apple, Yahoo, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Microsoft to extract emails, voice calls, videos, photos and other communications from their customers without the need for a warrant. Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Apple denied any involvement with PRISM.
Clapper said he could not provide all the details about the program or correct all misinformation in the article without disclosing classified information, but said he sought to "dispel some of the myths" surrounding the intelligence effort.
He maintained that PRISM had not gathered any data without the knowledge of the companies involved and said the program was not a secret data collection program, but an internal government computer system. He did not share information about the collected data, but claimed it had prevented terrorist attacks.
"Nobody is listening to your telephone calls. That's not what this program is about," Obama told reporters during a visit to California's Silicon Valley.