The National Security Agency is searching through the emails and text-based communications of Americans sent to and from the U.S., “hunting for people who mention information about foreigners under surveillance,” The New York Times reports.
Since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s first revelations about the NSA’s surveillance activities, senior U.S. intelligence officials repeatedly insisted that agency analysts do not “target” the content of the communications of Americans without warrants, only that they collect and analyze a message’s metadata.
The Times, citing U.S. intelligence officials, reports that the language in one of Snowden’s disclosures published in The Guardian on June 20 suggests that even though the communications of Americans are effected, the program is not about Americans.
NSA spokeswoman Judith Emmel told the publication that “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.”
The NSA was authorized by Congress in 2008 under the FISA Amendments Act to collect the communications of Americans if a target is a non-citizen outside of the country.
Inadvertent collection of communications belonging to U.S. persons, a senior intelligence official told the New York Times, have taken place due to changes made by “telecommunications providers or in the technology” itself.
The Associated Press noted on June 15 that NSA analysts are encouraged to not only analyze data collected through PRISM, but also data packets collected directly from transoceanic fiber optic cables — a technique which makes the data difficult to sift through mid-collection.
Criticism of the program, however, has stemmed from suspicion over the federal government’s secret interpretation of the powers legally granted to it by Congress.
Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, for example, has hinted years at an overreach by the federal government is being protected from the American public by secrecy laws.
“It is impossible for the American people to have an informed public debate about laws that are interpreted, enforced, and adjudicated in complete secrecy,” Wyden said in a statement in June.