- An message sent to a cousin named Osama may now be enough to make any American a target of surveillance
- The information was couched in a set of rules leaked by Edward Snowden about a 2008 domestic surveillance law
- The NSA can read the emails simply by defining the foreign recipient, and not the American sender, as their target
PUBLISHED: 14:48 EST, 8 August 2013 | UPDATED: 17:50 EST, 8 August 2013
The NSA isn’t just reading the emails of American connected to terrorists, the agency is searching virtually all communications Americans send across the border for the mention of anything even resembling information about overseas surveillance targets.
New information reveals that even a Facebook message about al-qaeda sent as a joke or an email sent to a cousin named Osama might trip NSA surveillance software designed to filter through every message sent from American soil to a recipient abroad.
This means that just about any message sent overseas could be read by the NSA as computers flag potentially suspicious message for examination by humans.
Information overload: A new report shows the NSA is doing a lot more than spying on Americans with terrorist connections, perhaps with the help of its $1.9 billion Utah Data Center
By identifying the recipient of the emails or text messages as the target of the surveillance instead of the sender, the NSA sidesteps a 2008 law that allows spying on domestic soil without warrants as long as the target was a noncitizen abroad.
This, according to a shocking New York Times report out Thursday, which cites a senior source inside the NSA.
‘To conduct the surveillance,’ reads the report, ‘the NSA. is temporarily copying and then sifting through the contents of what is apparently most e-mails and other text-based communications that cross the border…[the] computer searches the data for the identifying keywords or other “selectors” and stores those that match so that human analysts could later examine them.’
Leaked: The revelation was at least partially couched in information leaked by Edward Snowden, which hinted at the expansive reach of the NSA’s surveillance program
More convenient: According to the New York Times, the agency searches virtually all emails sent from Americans to recipients overseas. Seen here is the 28-acre NSA facility outside Baltimore, Maryland
The official said the remaining emails, those not selected by the software, are deleted.
Nonetheless, privacy proponents were in disbelief.
‘The program described by the New York Times involves a breathtaking invasion of millions of people’s privacy,’ American Civil Liberties Union deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer said in a statement. ‘The NSA has cast a massive dragnet over Americans’ international communications, collecting and monitoring virtually all of them, and retaining some untold number of them in government databases. This is precisely the kind of generalized spying that the Fourth Amendment was intended to prohibit.’
Jaffer, and undoubtedly others like him, fear the news could equal an invasion of free speech.
Though it was previously known the NSA targets Americans with known terrorist associations, new evidence shows the agency is far less discriminating as it combs messages for names and emails related to its targets
‘The government’s scrutiny of virtually every international email sent by Americans will have extraordinary consequences for free expression,’ wrote Jaffer. ‘Americans will inevitably hesitate to discuss controversial topics, visit politically sensitive websites or interact with foreigners with dissenting views. By injecting the NSA into virtually every cross-border interaction, the U.S. government will forever alter what has always been an open exchange of ideas.’
The NSA, meanwhile, all but declined to respond to the new allegations.
‘In carrying out its signals intelligence mission, N.S.A. collects only what it is explicitly authorized to collect,’ said NSA spokeswoman Judith A. Emmel. ‘Moreover, the agency’s activities are deployed only in response to requirements for information to protect the country and its interests.’
Emmel did not directly address the surveillance of cross-border communications, but did stress that surveillance carried out by the agency is intended to gather information about ‘foreign powers and their agents, foreign organizations, foreign persons or international terrorists’ and not about American citizens.
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