Putting absolute lie to NSA claims that its primary interest is in personally unidentifiable metadata, the Washington Post has revealed that a new set of document released by whistle-blower Edward Snowden shows it regularly collects email address books and ‘buddy lists’ from around the world on a scale that is frankly staggering, even to our NSA news deadened ears.
‘During a single day last year, the NSA’s Special Source Operations branch collected 444,743 e-mail address books from Yahoo, 105,068 from Hotmail, 82,857 from Facebook, 33,697 from Gmail and 22,881 from unspecified other providers’ says an internal NSA PowerPoint presentation, with around 500,000 buddy lists collected ‘on a representative day’.
This amounts to over 250 million such email address books, buddy lists and inboxes being collected each year, which covers a sizeable proportion of all people on the planet! Although US citizens are theoretically exempt from such invasions of privacy under the Fourth Amendment, ‘two senior U.S. intelligence officials acknowledged that it sweeps in the contacts of many Americans [and] did not dispute that the number is likely to be in the millions or tens of millions’.
The rest of us might get some comfort from the NSA not being authorised to collect foreign contact lists in bulk, and to do so from US facilities would be illegal, if it were not for the fact that it has evaded the restrictions by intercepting contact lists from access points ‘all over the world’, so that ‘none of those are on U.S. territory’.
Technically this means the NSA is not bound by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act restrictions, and consequently, when information passes through ‘the overseas collection apparatus, ‘the assumption is you’re not a U.S. person.’
As usual, the NSA’s response to these revelations has been to blame the usual boogiemen, and emphasise that it is not US citizens they are interested in in (the rest of the human population is apparently fair game however).
The NSA ‘“is focused on discovering and developing intelligence about valid foreign intelligence targets like terrorists, human traffickers and drug smugglers. We are not interested in personal information about ordinary Americans,’ said a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.