More ordinary Internet users are swept up in the National Security Agency's vast surveillance networks programs than people who are legally targeted, according to an examination of documents provided to The Washington Post by leaker Edward Snowden
The investigation found that nine of 10 users, mostly Americans, were not being specifically sought by the agency. Nearly 160,000 intercepted email and instant-message conversations, and 7,900 documents taken from more than 11,000 Internet accounts, were examined.
The data studied were from 2009 to 2012, the Post reports.
"Nearly half of the surveillance files … contained names, email addresses or other details that the NSA marked as belonging to U.S. citizens or residents," the report said. "NSA analysts masked, or 'minimized,' more than 65,000 such references to protect Americans’ privacy, but the Post found nearly 900 additional email addresses, unmasked in the files, that could be strongly linked to U.S. citizens or U.S. residents."
While most of the information was deemed "useless" by NSA data analysts, some of the files Snowden — who continues to live under temporary political asylum in Russia — leaked to the Post led to the arrests of two suspected terrorists in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2011.
They are Muhammad Tahir Shahzad, described as a bomb builder in the northeastern Pakistani city, and Umar Patek, a suspect in a 2002 terrorist bombing on the island of Bali in Indonesia.
"At the request of CIA officials, the Post is withholding other examples that officials said would compromise ongoing operations," the report said.
But many of those same files, even though they were retained by the NSA, reflect the everyday travails of regular people. The Post described them as having a "startlingly intimate, even voyeuristic quality.
"They tell stories of love and heartbreak, illicit sexual liaisons, mental-health crises, political and religious conversions, financial anxieties and disappointed hopes.
"The daily lives of more than 10,000 account holders who were not targeted are catalogued and recorded nevertheless," the Post reports.
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