NSA snooping on social networks, identifies Americans’ social connections

Stories of government agencies snooping around on Americans’ social network profiles aren’t exactly new. It was revealed early last year, for example, that the Department of Homeland Security was using a contractor to monitor social media sites for stories that reflect poorly on the federal government as well as items related to natural disasters and terrorist attacks.

But The New York Times offered a new twist on the snooping over the weekend, noting that the National Security Agency (NSA), which is already under fire for its broad surveillance of Americans’ phone and Internet metadata, has been collecting data from Americans’ social media accounts to identify who their connections are and the locations they’re visiting:

Since 2010, the National Security Agency has been exploiting its huge collections of data to create sophisticated graphs of some Americans’ social connections that can identify their associates, their locations at certain times, their traveling companions and other personal information, according to newly disclosed documents and interviews with officials.
The agency can augment the communications data with material from public, commercial and other sources, including bank codes, insurance information, Facebook profiles, passenger manifests, voter registration rolls and GPS location information, as well as property records and unspecified tax data, according to the documents. They do not indicate any restrictions on the use of such “enrichment” data, and several former senior Obama administration officials said the agency drew on it for both Americans and foreigners.

N.S.A. officials declined to say how many Americans have been caught up in the effort, including people involved in no wrongdoing. The documents do not describe what has resulted from the scrutiny, which links phone numbers and e-mails in a “contact chain” tied directly or indirectly to a person or organization overseas that is of foreign intelligence interest.

The intelligence community is relying, once again, on a 1979 court decision, Smith v. Maryland. They insist that the decision states that Americans have no reasonable expectation of privacy when it comes to third-party records and metadata. The only problem with this interpretation of this court decision is that it doesn’t actually say that. Moreover, the decision is 34-years-old, meaning that it’s completely out-of-date for the Digital Age.

While the NSA declined to comment on Americans who may have been caught up in this datamining, the agency’s collects metadata emcompasses virtually all cell phone users and can reach 75% of the Internet. It doesn’t matter whether or not you have been accused of terrorist activity or a crime, they’re still likely collecting your information.

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