NSA harvesting hundreds of millions of personal email contact lists – report

Published time: October 15, 2013 00:13

Reuters / Ueslei Marcelino

The National Security Agency is logging hundreds of millions of email and instant messaging contacts belonging to Americans and others around the world, according to a report based on documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The data harvesting program, first reported by The Washington
Post Monday, collects address books from email and instant
messaging service in an apparent attempt to map social circles
across the globe. Online communication services frequently expose
an individual’s contact list when that person signs onto their
account, sends a message, or connects a remote device – such as a
cell phone – to a computer.

An internal NSA PowerPoint presentation indicated that the NSA’s
Special Source Operations collected 444,743 email lists from
Yahoo, 105,068 from Hotmail, 82,857 from Facebook, 33,697 from
Gmail, and another 22,881 from other services. The documents note
that those numbers show what the NSA collects in one day, meaning
the intelligence agency could collect more than 250 million lists
each year.

The NSA is capable of collecting approximately 500,000 so-called
buddy lists from live-chat services and the “in-box” displays
from web-based email services, according to the Post.

Two NSA sources told the Post the intelligence agency uses the
data to identify international connections and then find smaller,
more nefarious connections between suspected criminals. The
collection relies on secret deals with foreign telecommunication
companies, with NSA agents monitoring internet traffic outside
the US.

The sources refused to estimate how many Americans are snared in
the dragnet but did admit it could number in the tens of
millions. An unnamed official was careful to mention the
collection comes from “all over the world,” and “None of those
are on US territory.”

Shawn Turner, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of
National Intelligence, said the NSA “is focused on
discovering and developing intelligence about valid foreign
intelligence targets like terrorists, human traffickers and drug
smugglers. We are not interested in personal information about
ordinary Americans.”

While the earlier revelation that the NSA indiscriminately
collected millions of American phone records ignited outrage,
email address books could provide much more detail about a
person’s life. Address books often include home and work
addresses, as well as business and family information.

The potential for abuse could also be much higher, with
intelligence agents able to look at a close diagram of someone’s
life, including political and religious organizations. False
impressions could also be created if someone neglects to delete
entries belonging to friends they are no longer associated with.

Copyright: RT