NSA harvesting hundreds of millions of personal email contact lists – report
The National Security Agency is logging hundreds of millions of email and instant messaging contacts belonging to Americans and others around the world, according to a report based on documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The data harvesting program, first reported by The Washington Post Monday, collects address books from email and instant messaging service in an apparent attempt to map social circles across the globe. Online communication services frequently expose an individual’s contact list when that person signs onto their account, sends a message, or connects a remote device – such as a cell phone – to a computer.
An internal NSA PowerPoint presentation indicated that the NSA’s Special Source Operations collected 444,743 email lists from Yahoo, 105,068 from Hotmail, 82,857 from Facebook, 33,697 from Gmail, and another 22,881 from other services. The documents note that those numbers show what the NSA collects in one day, meaning the intelligence agency could collect more than 250 million lists each year.
The NSA is capable of collecting approximately 500,000 so-called buddy lists from live-chat services and the “in-box” displays from web-based email services, according to the Post.
Two NSA sources told the Post the intelligence agency uses the data to identify international connections and then find smaller, more nefarious connections between suspected criminals. The collection relies on secret deals with foreign telecommunication companies, with NSA agents monitoring internet traffic outside the US.
The sources refused to estimate how many Americans are snared in the dragnet but did admit it could number in the tens of millions. An unnamed official was careful to mention the collection comes from “all over the world,” and “None of those are on US territory.”
Shawn Turner, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said 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.”