The National Security Agency has been collecting millions of contact lists from e-mail and instant messaging accounts around the world, including the US, according to the Associated Press.
A report by The Washington Post showed the agency intercepts hundreds of thousands of email address books every day from private Yahoo, Gmail, Facebook and Hotmail accounts to allegedly combat terrorism. The NSA is also sifting through almost 500,000 lists of friends from live chat services and email accounts every day, which would correspond to more than 250 million a year.
The disclosure is the latest in a series of leaks of secret documents by former NSA employer Edward Snowden, who now lives in Russia.
â€œThis revelation further confirms that the NSA has relied on the pretense of `foreign intelligence gatheringâ€™ to sweep up an extraordinary amount of information about everyday Americans,â€ Alex Abdo, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, told The Associated Press. â€œThe NSA’s indiscriminate collection of information about innocent people can’t be justified on security grounds, and it presents a serious threat to civil liberties.â€
The agency analyzes contact lists to map relationships and connections among various foreign intelligence targets, the Washington Post said.
A representative of the national intelligence director’s office, which oversees the NSA, told the newspaper that the agency only seeks information on valid targets, and doesnâ€™t spy on personal information of ordinary people.
Early this year, Edward Snowden disclosed confidential documents showing how the NSA was intercepting email metadata, instant messaging traffic and file transfers. The former contractor was recently nominated to the Nobel Peace Prize.
As the scale of US surveillance continued to make headlines worldwide, large tech groups such as Google, Facebook and Reddit asked for less secrecy around government orders for data. The IT giants asked the Department of Justice to let companies publish statistics on government requests â€œunder specific national security authorities.â€