The U.S. government’s surveillance programs cover about 75 percent of all Internet communications in the U.S., including domestic phone calls made over the Internet, and in some cases, the National Security Agency, or NSA, retains written content of filtered email communications, the Wall Street Journal reported, on Tuesday, citing U.S. officials.
The NSA’s surveillance programs were originally set up to extract foreign intelligence by tracking communication that either originated or ended outside the U.S., or which occurred entirely outside the country’s territory. However, officials who spoke to the Journal said the programs’ extensive reach makes a large chunk of domestic communication susceptible to filtering.
The report said the NSA expanded its reach following the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S., when the government broadened its definition of what accounts for the “reasonable” collection of data.
The bulk of the intercepted data, which includes email communication content and the email addresses of people who sent and received certain emails, is supposed to be discarded, but some data are retained on the NSA’s databases, the report said, and the extent of the NSA’s surveillance has rendered privacy protection laws inadequate.
The NSA, in an email sent to Reuters in response to the report, said its intelligence is aimed at defending the U.S. from “foreign adversaries” while “fiercely working to protect the privacy rights of U.S. persons.”
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“It's not either/or. It's both,” NSA officials told Reuters in the email.
An official who spoke to the Journal said that according to the NSA’s definition of “access,” the agency is not directly accessing Internet traffic. Instead, telecom companies, which work with NSA, access all communication in the first stage and provide the NSA with whatever data it asks for under broad court orders from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the report said.