Dec 9, 2013
NSA Harvests Millions of Personal Online Contact Lists
Posted on Oct 15, 2013
By now, these revelations shouldn’t surprise us. Yet, they still do.
The Washington Post reports Tuesday morning that the National Security Agency has been harvesting personal email and instant-messaging contact lists on a daily basis, to the tune of 250 million address books a year, through a previously unexposed program of an astoundingly broad sweep.
The collection points are overseas, but the Post reports that the NSA is able to harvest personal contact lists of Americans through a system that piggybacks on online chat programs. Every time you log on to an instant messaging service—such as Facebook—your contact list gets transmitted over the Internet. And NSA spies collect them. From the article:
Some of the information grows out of the material leaked by Edward Snowden, but the Post also got its hands on an internal NSA PowerPoint presentation, which is posted online here.
The NSA took significant heat when it was revealed this summer that it was collecting vast troves of phone call information from Americans. The information collected under the program revealed Tuesday morning is far broader, and more invasive, in that it sweeps up details on whom Americans are in contact with over the Internet. As the Post points out, “address books commonly include not only names and e-mail addresses, but also telephone numbers, street addresses, and business and family information. Inbox listings of e-mail accounts stored in the ‘cloud’ sometimes contain content, such as the first few lines of a message.”
So how is the NSA getting around the FISA court oversight that is supposed to keep it in check, and protect the civil liberties of Americans? By offshoring the information gathering. That has allowed it to create a bank of deeply personal data:
Somewhat chillingly, when I message a link to this story later to friends on Facebook, some NSA computer somewhere in the world is likely stashing away my contacts list. That means no friendship, or professional contact, is safe from government snooping.
—Posted by Scott Martelle.
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