NSA Data Sweep Collects Information on More Ordinary Americans than Targets

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By Lyndsey Kelly
Desk Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON D.C., United States of America -  When Edward Snowden, a former NSA analyst and contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton leaked details of U.S. surveillance programs to The Guardian and The Washington Post in June of 2013, much of the country erupted with criticism towards the governments invasion of privacy.

NSA target captured as a direct result of data sweep (Photo Courtesy of The Washington Post).

By law, without a warrant based on probable cause from a special surveillance court, the U.S. National Security Agency is allowed to target only foreign nations located overseas. A story published by The Washington Post acknowledges, “’incidental collection’ of third-party communications is inevitable.”

The intercepted files offer an unprecedented vantage point on the changes produced by Section 702 of the FISA Amendments. These changes enable the NSA to use methods of collection that had previously required probable cause and a warrant from a judge.

When the NSA intercepted the online accounts of legally targeted foreigners over a four-year period, which spanned President Barack Obama’s first term, 2009 to 2012, it also collected the conversations of nine times as many ordinary Internet users, including American citizens and residents and non-Americans. Most of the individuals whom were included in the data sweep were those in an online chat room visited by a target or those merely reading the discussion.

The collected material included approximately 160,00 intercepted email conversations, and 7,900 documents taken from more than 11,000 accounts. Nearly half of the surveillance filed contained names, email addresses and other details that belonged to Americans. The Washington Post described the intercepted material as containing, “stories of love and heartbreak, illicit sexual liaisons, mental-health crises, political and religious conversations, financial anxieties and disappointed hopes.”

The majority of the communications intercepted by the NSA were not sent by targeted foreign threats, but provided valuable information. Some of the intercepted messages contained information regarding, “a secret overseas nuclear project, double dealing by an ostensible ally, a military calamity that befell an unfriendly power, and the identities of aggressive intruders into U.S. computer networks.”

The intercepted information proved to be valuable as it led to the direct capture in 2011 of a Pakistan-based bomb builder suspected in a 2002 terrorist bombing in Bali.

However, while a vast amount of information was of imminent importance to the NSA, much of the communications involved in the data sweep contained private photos of, “kids in bathtubs and kissing their mothers – and of women modeling lingerie or posing in skimpy bikini tops.”

The NSA treats all content even incidental collection from third parties as permissible to retain and search. This highlights a major policy dilemma, as the intercepted information has proven to contain considerable intelligence value helpful to the NSA but at the same time it creates collateral harm to the privacy of individuals.

The Obama administration has not yet been willing to address the scale of the harm to individual privacy produced by incidental collection.


For more information, please see:

CBS NEWS – Ordinary Americans Caught Up in NSA Data Sweep, Report Claims - 8 July 2014.

USA TODAY – Report: Most NSA Peeking Involved Ordinary Americans – 8 July 2014.

US NEWS – Report: NSA Surveillance Collects Data On Far More Ordinary Online Users Than Actual Targets – 8 July 2014.

WASHINGTON POST – In NSA- Intercepted Data, Those Not Targeted Far Outnumber The Foreigners Who Are – 8 July 2014.

News Source : NSA Data Sweep Collects Information on More Ordinary Americans than Targets
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