The collection program, which has not been disclosed before, intercepts
e-mail address books and “buddy lists” from instant messaging services
as they move across global data links. 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.
than targeting individual users, the NSA is gathering contact lists in
large numbers that amount to a sizable fraction of the world’s e-mail
and instant messaging accounts. Analysis of that data enables the agency
to search for hidden connections and to map relationships within a much
smaller universe of foreign intelligence targets.
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, according to an internal NSA PowerPoint presentation. Those figures, described as a typical daily intake in the document, correspond to a rate of more than 250 million a year.
Every day according to the report, the NSA collects another half million buddy lists on live-chat services as well as from Web-based e-mail accounts. Apparently the NSA gathers the data via secret arrangements with foreign telecommunications companies or allied intelligence services in control of facilities that direct traffic along the Internet’s main data routes.
Here’s the “fun” part the NSA has not been authorized by Congress or the FISA court to collect this information from American facilities, but they get around it by collecting the data from contact lists from access points “all over the world.” According to one official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity “None of those are on U.S. territory.”
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, he said.
When information passes through “the overseas collection apparatus,” the official added, “the assumption is you’re not a U.S. person.”
In practice, data from Americans is collected in large volumes — in part because they live and work overseas, but also because data crosses international boundaries even when its American owners stay at home. Large technology companies, including Google and Facebook, maintain data centers around the world to balance loads on their servers and work around outages.
This revelation is additional evidence that the FISA program MUST be revised. On one hand the need for intelligence
is understandable in this age of worldwide Islamist terrorism, that is
why I originally supported the program five years ago. However with the
revelations of over reaching programs and unintentional screw-ups it
has become obvious that the FISA program is a “monster” that cannot be
controlled. Neither the courts nor the Congress who we trust for
oversight can do its job because they only receive the information they
A famous Ben Franklin quote has proven to be correct once again, “He who would trade liberty for some temporary security, deserves neither liberty nor security.”
The full Washington Post Story and all of its related articles (as well as the documents) can be found here. It would be well worth your time to read it.