The National Security Agency has the ability to tap into 75 percent of all U.S. Internet traffic, according to a new report that reveals a much wider scope for its controversial surveillance programs than publicly disclosed by the Obama administration.
Citing interviews with government and telecommunications workers, The Wall Street Journal outlines a vast system in which the NSA, in partnership with telecom companies, receives even the written content of domestic emails as part of its search for terrorist cells.
The NSA programs are intended to focus on communications to or from overseas — a point President Obama has made repeatedly in defense of the surveillance tactics — but conversations between Americans often get swept up in the search.
The report comes on the heels of an NSA internal audit that disclosed thousands of privacy violations by the agency each year, further clarifying top-secret government methods receiving more scrutiny after former government contractor Edward Snowden leaked details about such blueprints.
Obama recently announced that he would work with Congress to improve openness surrounding the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and the Patriot Act provision that allows federal officials to seize Americans’ phone data. He also called for the creation of a new panel of “outside experts” to review the programs.
However, critics ripped those proposals as merely cosmetic changes that would do little to alter the NSA programs.
The Journal report also says that the NSA stores Americans’ emails and phone calls as part of dragnet to identify foreign targets.
Under the system, the telecom companies are required to provide the NSA with all information requested through the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. And the companies must use the NSA guidelines for filtering communications.
In response to the latest disclosures, the NSA said that if domestic content were “incidentally collected during NSA’s lawful signals intelligence activities,” that the agency follows “minimization procedures that are approved by the U.S. attorney general and designed to protect the privacy of United States persons.”
The White House earlier this week continued to insist that ordinary Americans were not being spied on by the federal government.
According to the NSA’s internal audit, there were 2,776 incidents of unauthorized collection, storage, access to or distribution of legally protected communications during a recent 12-month period. Administration officials say those instances were almost exclusively the result of human error.