Tuesday, October 15, 2013

NSA Collecting 500,000 Email Contact Lists Daily

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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.

This, after president Obama promised the nation this past June that the government is not spying on American citizens.

The Washington Post was the first to break this story late yesterday afternoon.

The revelation is chilling to say the least.

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.

Here's how they're doing it while claiming not to be violating any U.S. law.

The Washington Post reports that the NSA collects contact lists from more than 500,000 chat-based contact, or buddy, lists.

The Post says, "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)."

Although the collection takes place overseas, two senior U.S. intelligence officials acknowledged that it sweeps in the contacts of many Americans. They declined to offer an estimate but did not dispute that the number is likely to be in the millions or tens of millions.

The NSA’s collection of nearly all U.S. call records, under a separate program, has generated significant controversy since it was revealed in June. At that time President Obama assured Americans the government was not collecting information on citizens.

Contact lists stored online provide the NSA with far richer sources of data than call records alone. 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.

The Post notes that, "Taken together, the data would enable the NSA, if permitted, to draw detailed maps of a person’s life, as told by personal, professional, political and religious connections. The picture can also be misleading, creating false 'associations' with ex-spouses or people with whom an account holder has had no contact in many years."

This practice is illegal in the United States. However the Washington Post says, "The agency avoids the restrictions in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by intercepting contact lists from access points 'all over the world,' one official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity."

The NSA has not been authorized by Congress or the special intelligence court that oversees foreign surveillance to collect contact lists in bulk, and senior intelligence officials said it would be illegal to do so from facilities in this country. "But," they say, “none of those are on U.S. territory.”

Because of the method employed, the agency is not legally required or technically able to restrict its intake to contact lists belonging to specified foreign intelligence targets, he said.

When information passes through “the overseas collection apparatus,” the official added, “the assumption is you’re not a U.S. person.”

However, tens of millions are U.S. citizens.

The NSA is explaining this morning that the privacy of Americans is not endangered because "we have checks and balances built into our tools."

The IRS also has checks and balances built into their "tools."

Somehow that is not very convincing, given this administration's disdain for the law and the Constitution.

Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Microsoft are all issuing statements today that they were not aware of this and were not complicit with what the government has been doing.

Interestingly under this arrangement for collecting information from overseas, regardless of whose information is collected, the direct control falls solely under the President's purview. From what I'm reading, under present law, Congress does not apparently have much if any authority in the matter due to the way it is being carried out. And given that U.S. laws were written prior to this kind of technology being available.

There is much more information in the Washington Post story. I encourage you to read it.

There will also be some kind of spin on this story from the White House today as well. I'm certain the President will blame the Republicans saying the "government shut down" is causing this to happen.

Cicero, the Roman historian and politician, reminds us that the enemy within is more dangerous than the enemy without the gate.

Be Vigilant. Be Informed. Be Discerning. Be Prayerful. Be Bold. Be Blessed.