The National Security Agency has been secretly “harvesting hundreds of millions of contact lists from personal e-mail and instant messaging accounts around the world, many of them belonging to Americans,” reports the Washington Post from documents obtained by whistleblower on the lam, Edward Snowden.
PowerPoint slides reveal that, “During a single day last year, the NSA’s Special Source Operations branch collected 444,743 e-mail address books from Yahoo, 105,068 from Hotmail, 82,857 from Facebook, 33,697 from Gmail and 22,881 from unspecified other providers.”
Moreover, it collects contact lists from more than 500,000 chat-based contact, or buddy, lists. Apparently, the practice is illegal in the United States, so the NSA collects them for foreign access points “all over the world,” according to an anonymous official. Because they’re collected overseas, there is an assumption that the person is not a U.S. citizen (we’re not making this up).
Google, Facebook and Microsoft all offered statements of plausible deniability with the program, since the NSA picks up the information directly from Internet switches, rather than downloading it from company servers.
Both Congress and President Obama have vowed to reform the NSA’s controversial practices. Assuming the government ever reopens for business, there are several reforms proposed by Congress and a White House task force charged with recommending changes to surveillance policy. The task force was supposed to present its findings in the coming months but has been delayed by the shutdown.
The Washington Post’s documents can be read here.
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