NSA collecting e-mail contacts worldwide, report says

National Security Agency Director General Keith Alexander, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Deputy Attorney General James Cole are sworn in during a hearing before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee September 26,2 103 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.  (Alex Wong, Getty Images)
National Security Agency Director General Keith Alexander, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Deputy Attorney General James Cole are sworn in during a hearing before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee September 26,2 103 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong, Getty Images)
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Updated: 10/15/2013 12:19 pm
WASHINGTON -- The NSA has collected millions of e-mail and instant messaging contacts -- many belonging to American citizens -- as part of its sweeping global surveillance program, the Washington Post reported Monday.

The report details the collection program, which intercepts e-mail addresses and "buddy lists" as users cross global data links on instant messaging services.

The details of the program were made public through the disclosures provided by whistle-blower Edward Snowden. For example, during a single day in 2012 the program collected nearly 450,000 Yahoo, 105,000 Hotmail, 83,000 Facebook and 33,000 Gmail e-mail addresses -- as well as another 22,000 from other providers.

Roughly 500,000 contacts were collected daily and approximately 250 million were tallied yearly, a NSA document said.

Because the information is not being gathered on American soil, the NSA is not required to inform, or obtain permission from, the U.S. based companies who host the information. Spokespersons for Facebook, Microsoft and Google have emphatically denied knowledge of, or participation in, these data collection practices, the report said. 

Neither Congress nor a special intelligence court that oversees foreign surveillance had authorized the NSA to collect the contact lists, but because the collection is taking place outside of the country, officials said that isn't required. Foreign telecommunications and intelligence service companies assisted the NSA with its efforts.

The NSA has previously said that it is not spying on U.S. citizens, but rather it is analyzing electronic trace evidence to help them identify and track potential terror suspects.

In June, it was revealed through secret documents, leaked by Snowden, that the NSA had been collecting U.S. phone records and Internet data as part of its sweeping global surveillance program. The agency has since been the target of a firestorm of criticism, with many saying the NSA has overstepped its authority and is intruding on citizens' privacy.

Intelligence officials and President Obama, however, have defended the surveillance programs -- saying they have been instrumental in capturing suspects and averting terror plots.
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Information from The Washington Post

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