U.S. Gathering Even More of Your Email, Text Messages

By Jennifer Moire 

Perhaps it’s to prove that the U.S. government isn’t targeting individual Americans as part of the surveillance program known as Prism.

But stories out this morning stemming from the classified materials Edward Snowden leaked to The Guardian is raising even more privacy concerns, revealing that the government is collecting a broader swath of email, phone and text messages from cross-border communications than previously thought, according to a report in The New York Times.

An N.S.A. official told the Times that the government is casting a broad net for Americans’ communications, including information, such as an email address, that is linked in some way to a foreign target.

A 2008 rule for carrying out Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act law, listed among documents leaked by Snowden in June, mentions that the NSA “seeks to acquire communications about the target that are not to or from the target.’

In other words, the government is collecting information whether or not an American is directly communicating with a foreign surveillance target. The disclosure adds another wrinkle to the privacy concerns of Americans under the Prism program.

The story also sheds more light on the “how’s” of collecting all of this data.

“Computer scientists said that it would be difficult to systematically search the contents of the communications without first gathering nearly all cross-border text-based data; fiber-optic networks work by breaking messages into tiny packets that flow at the speed of light over different pathways to their shared destination, so they would need to be captured and reassembled.”

“…A computer searches the data for the identifying keywords or other “selectors” and stores those that match so that human analysts could later examine them. The remaining communications, the official said, are deleted.”

“The official said the keyword and other terms were “very precise” to minimize the number of innocent American communications that were flagged by the program. At the same time, the official acknowledged that there had been times when changes by telecommunications providers or in the technology had led to inadvertent overcollection.”

Readers, do the latest revelations make your more concerned for your privacy? Or does any of this information surprise you anymore?