Thursday, October 17, 2013
The National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] has been collecting contact lists from personal e-mail and instant messaging programs around the world in an attempt to combat terrorism or other criminal activity, according a Washington Post report [text] Monday. The information about the collection came from senior intelligence officials and documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden [JURIST news archive]. Although the collection of contact lists would be illegal for the NSA to do from facilities in the US, the agency can bypass restrictions inForeign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) [text] by intercepting contact lists from access points worldwide, none of which are on US territory. Online contact lists provide the NSA with more data than phone call records since the lists commonly include names, e-mail addresses, telephone numbers, street addresses, and business and family information. The NSA then uses the contacts to track relationships and connections among foreign targets. NSA analysts are not permitted not search within the contacts database unless they can argue there is a valid foreign intelligence target in their search. However, the case is made either to the NSA itself or to others in the executive branch, as the bulk of oversea intelligence operations is under presidential control.