The figures come from the annual transparency report and is the first since the passage of the 2015 USA Freedom Act, which was created to limit the NSA's ability to collect phone records in bulk.
"The report, courtesy of Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), shows the true scope of NSA surveillance, even under the" limited" access arrangement.
That's the act that was supposed to clip the NSA's surveillance powers.
The records - which are being collected since the 9/11 attacks - contain information like the phone numbers of both the caller and recipient, call duration and time of the call. That way, records are collected from any number that called or was called by the target number, together with the every number each of those numbers interacted with.
Officials from the NSA defended the numbers by saying that the figure of 151 million records was "tiny" when compared with the pre-Snowden surveillance numbers. If the target calls that same number again, each call counts as an additional record.
They also noted the 151 million phone records were not all from unique numbers.
The National Security Agency (NSA) has announced it will stop a controversial surveillance program under which it collected internet communications between individuals not under investigation merely because they mentioned a foreign intelligence target. If Americans or permanent residents are swept up in the search, they are considered "incidental" and their identities are "minimized" under what the report called "robust internal agency oversight". Under the provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), orders with the tag "probable cause" issued on a yearly basis remained steady for the most part, with 1,559 orders issued by Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) applying to an estimated 1,687 targets, 336 of whom are labeled "US persons".
In 1,934 instances, the NSA complied with requests from authorized officials to "unmask" names that had been originally blacked out to protect privacy.
NSA collected the 151 million records even though it had warrants from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to spy on only 42 suspects in 2016, in addition to a handful identified the previous year, the report said. Downstream communications are those "to or from" a foreign intelligence target, while "upstream" communications are those "to, from  or about" a foreign intelligence target. FISA permits the NSA to collect foreign intelligence information on non-US targets outside the United States; the Act is scheduled to expire at the end of this year. Dan Coats of IN called Section 702 the "crown jewels" of the intelligence establishment.
"The same technologies that are being used to connect us, to tie us together, to let you listen to this right now, are also being used to make records about your activity", Edward Snowden said during an interview with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.