The Washington Post is out with another bombshell report based on documents taken by ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden, and one frightening new detail from the story is just how easy the intelligence agency can justify capturing data on Americans by claiming they are “foreign.”
As required by law, the NSA is tasked with gathering intelligence on foreign subjects, and it must work to “minimize” data collected on American citizens. While this can understandably be a difficult prospect as internet traffic often passes through U.S. servers — the WaPo report reveals that the burden of proof is much lower than previously believed:
One analyst rests her claim that a target is foreign on the fact that his emails are written in a foreign language, a quality shared by tens of millions of Americans. Others are allowed to presume that anyone on the chat “buddy list” of a known foreign national is also foreign.
With this anecdote, it’s easy to see a fairly large segment of the U.S. population could be swooped up in the dragnet. The logic would mean an American father sending an email in Spanish to his daughter, or an American businessman selling products in Europe, could both be subject to data collection.
Besides the murky definition of “foreign,” the new report further shows that Edward Snowden had access to actual signals intercepts — not just training documents and PowerPoint slides detailing top-secret programs — a revelation that contradicts claims by former NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander.
“[Snowden and journalists] didn’t touch the FISA data. What they could have gotten was a report. But they didn’t get the database. That database, he didn’t have access to,” Alexander told The New Yorker in May.
The NSA released a transparency report last month saying it had targeted nearly 90,000 foreign persons or organisations for surveillance in 2012, according to Washington Post.
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