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The NSA’s Harvest
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The NSA has “harvested” several hundred million contacts and contact lists from IMs, chats, and emails from all over the globe. Many of the contacts belong to American citizens, as confirmed by not only the classified documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, but also by intelligence officials.

The NSA’s data collection basically “intercepts e-mail address books and ‘buddy lists’ from instant messaging services as they move across global data links. Online services often transmit those contacts when a user logs on, composes a message, or synchronizes a computer or mobile device with information stored on remote servers,” according to the Washington Post.

  
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Ultimately, the NSA seems to be hacking into and downloading the entire world’s email and chat accounts. Conspiracy theorists may be saddened to learn that this collection of data is to better understand, correlate, and “map relationships” across the global – all in efforts to understand terrorism, rather than to simply spy on backwoods Americans. Definitely the data is analyzed to better understand terrorism connections that would otherwise remain hidden as well as to track information flows that may be dangerous to America’s security.

In one day last year, the NSA managed to collect almost 500,000 entire email address books, complete with contacts from Yahoo, Hotmail, Facebook, Gmail, and other unspecified email service providers. Compounded, there are more than 250 million such data points in a year. The NSA had an internal PowerPoint presentation that discussed how each day half a million buddy lists are retrieved from the web. While the operation of this project is overseas, depending on arrangements with “foreign telecommunication companies” or “allied intelligence services” many American’s data will be collected as well.

The Office of National Intelligence, an agency that directly oversees the NSA, commented, “The NSA is focused on discovering and developing intelligence about valid foreign intelligence targets like terrorists, human traffickers and drug smugglers. We are not interested in personal information about ordinary Americans.”

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