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NSA Collects Millions of Email Address Books Globally


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Artist's representation of online surveillance.

The National Security Agency harvests contact lists from personal email and instant messaging accounts worldwide, including many belonging to Americans, according to intelligence officials and documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Credit: Occupy.com

The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) is harvesting hundreds of millions of contact lists from personal email and instant messaging accounts worldwide, many of which belong to Americans, according to senior intelligence officials and top-secret documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The collection program analyzes email address books and "buddy lists" from instant messaging services via secret arrangements with foreign telecommunications companies or allied intelligence services in control of facilities that direct Internet traffic. An analysis of that data enables the agency to search for hidden connections and to map relationships within a group of foreign intelligence targets.

Each day NSA collects contacts from an estimated 500,000 buddy lists on live-chat services, as well as from the inbox displays of Web-based email accounts.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence's Shawn Turner says the agency "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."

However, intelligence officials acknowledge that although the data collection effort takes place overseas, the program captures the contact information of millions of U.S. citizens. A senior official says individual privacy is protected because "we have checks and balances built into our tools."

From The Washington Post
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