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Published On: Thu, Aug 8th, 2013

NSA surveillance of email and text message broader than acknowledged, ACLU calls it a ‘dragnet’

The National Security Agency is searching the contents of Americans’ e-mail and text communications into and out of the country, hunting for people who mention information about foreigners under surveillance, according to intelligence officials.

photo Fibonacci Blue via Flickr

photo Fibonacci Blue via Flickr

NY Times reports and details information from a senior intelligence official who says the NSA is notjust intercepting the communications of Americans who are in direct contact with foreigners targeted overseas, which has been openly acknowledged, but the NSA is also casting a far wider net for people who cite information linked to those foreigners, like a little used e-mail address.

Government officials say the cross-border surveillance was authorized by a 2008 law, the FISA Amendments Act, in which Congress approved eavesdropping on domestic soil without warrants as long as the “target” was a noncitizen abroad. Voice communications are not included in that surveillance, the senior official said.

Judith A. Emmel, an N.S.A. spokeswoman, did not directly address surveillance of cross-border communications. But she said the agency’s activities were lawful and intended to gather intelligence not about Americans but about “foreign powers and their agents, foreign organizations, foreign persons or international terrorists.”

“In carrying out its signals intelligence mission, NSA collects only what it is explicitly authorized to collect,” she said. “Moreover, the agency’s activities are deployed only in response to requirements for information to protect the country and its interests.”

To conduct the surveillance, 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 senior intelligence official, who, like other former and current government officials, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic, said the NSA makes a “clone of selected communication links” to gather the communications, but declined to specify details, like the volume of the data that passes through them.

The article explains that a keyword and other terms were “very precise” to minimize the number of innocent American communications that were flagged by the program.

“The program described by the New York Times involves a breathtaking invasion of millions of people’s privacy.  The NSA has cast a massive dragnet over Americans’ international communications, collecting and monitoring 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,” says  Jameel Jaffer, the American Civil Liberties Union deputy legal director.

“The government’s scrutiny of virtually every international email sent by Americans will have extraordinary consequences for free expression. 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.”

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About the Author

- Writer and Co-Founder of The Global Dispatch, Brandon has been covering news, offering commentary for years, beginning professionally in 2003 on Crazed Fanboy before expanding into other blogs and sites. Appearing on several radio shows, Brandon has hosted Dispatch Radio, written his first novel (The Rise of the Templar) and completed the three years Global University program in Ministerial Studies to be a pastor. To Contact Brandon email [email protected] ATTN: BRANDON

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