The National Security Agency's collection of foreigners' internet communication (which often also includes Americans' correspondence) has been approved as "legal and effective in protecting national security" by an independent privacy board in a new report. The same panel condemned the NSA's collection of Americans' phone metadata earlier this year.
In the report completed by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, the NSA's "702 Program," which refers to Section 702 of the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act and allows for the agency to collect "electronic communications, including telephone calls and emails, where the target is a non-U.S. citizen located outside the United States," was ruled constitutional. Further explanation of how the 702 program works, per Wired:
Section 702 of the FISA permits the attorney general and the director of national intelligence to authorize the targeting of non-U.S. persons who are reasonably believed to be located outside the U.S., in order to acquire foreign intelligence information. Although the communication of U.S. persons may be "incidentally" scooped up in bulk collections of data, the NSA is prohibited from targeting U.S. persons and must follow procedures to minimize the collection or use of such data. But the NSA may use U.S. identifiers—such as the phone number or email address of a known U.S. person—to search through the collected data for communication that is relevant to an investigation of a foreign target.
The board, however, did caution against how American data is also regularly swept up during these bulk data collections. From the Guardian:
But the board did question the NSA's intrusion into Americans' data and recommended limits to the government's ability to access large amounts of American communications data that the NSA inevitably collects and searches through without a warrant.
Because as NPR points out, the broad scope of the surveillance program allows for Americans to be monitored, even if their connection is incidental at best:
That's the most controversial part of this program. If you flip through the report, you'll also read a lot about collection of data labeled "about." This happens when the NSA collects emails from an American, for example, that contain the email address of a targeted foreigner in the body of the text, but that foreigner isn't the recipient or the sender of that communication.
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