It seems as if every day brings a new revelation about the National Security Agency’s (NSA) snooping into Americans’ private lives. The latest, according to the Washington Post, is that the agency is annually vacuuming up “hundreds of millions” of e-mail and instant-messaging contact lists, many belonging to American citizens — and doing so without any legal justification or congressional oversight.
“Online services often transmit those contacts when a user logs on, composes a message, or synchronizes a computer or mobile device with information stored on remote servers,” the Post reported in a story based on information from “senior intelligence officials and top-secret documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.” The NSA then “intercepts” these contact lists “as they move across global data links.”
None of this is authorized by law or even by the secret court that oversees intelligence-gathering activities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The NSA cleverly avoids FISA by intercepting data from foreign sources under “secret arrangements with foreign telecommunications companies or allied intelligence services in control of facilities that direct traffic along the Internet’s main data routes,” the Post wrote.
“Because of the method employed, the agency is not legally required or technically able to restrict its intake to contact lists belonging to specified foreign intelligence targets,” an intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the paper. Conveniently, this allows the NSA to collect such data on countless individuals, both foreigners and Americans, who are not suspected of any crimes. Moreover, because the program falls outside the purview of FISA or other domestic laws, the NSA only has to satisfy itself that its searches of the gathered data are related to a foreign intelligence target before it can commence combing through the contact lists, giving the agency essentially carte blanche to engage in fishing expeditions.
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