Law-abiding Internet users accounted for 90 percent of the people who are spied on by the National Security Agency (NSA), says a new report based on documents leaked by former NSA analyst Edward Snowden.
According to The Washington Post, the daily lives of 10,000 innocent people were swept up by the NSA and included "stories of love and heartbreak, illicit sexual liaisons, mental-health crises, political and religious conversions, financial anxieties and disappointed hopes."
The Washington Post said the Snowden documents span from 2009 to 2012, and include "160,000 intercepted e-mail and instant-message conversations, some of them hundreds of pages long, and 7,900 documents taken from more than 11,000 online accounts."
Per U.S. law, the NSA is only supposed to "target" foreign nationals overseas, but can snoop on Americans if the spy agency gets a warrant from a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court.
However, all content that is "incidentally" intercepted by the NSA can be stored and searched by the NSA.
The massive amount of content that Snowden gave The Washington Post is only a small sample of the NSA's spying activities.
“Even if one could conceivably justify the initial, inadvertent interception of baby pictures and love letters of innocent bystanders,” Snowden told The Washington Post. “Their continued storage in government databases is both troubling and dangerous. Who knows how that information will be used in the future?”
The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, a federal privacy board, recently praised the NSA's Internet spying.
According to The New York Times, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board claimed in its latest report that the NSA "largely abided by the rules set out by Congress as it gathered the communications of foreigners, a process that necessarily swept in some emails and phone calls involving American citizens."
The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board said that the NSA's internet spying “has proven valuable in the government’s efforts to combat terrorism as well as in other areas of foreign intelligence" and the NSA's "monitoring terrorist networks under Section 702 has enabled the government to learn how they operate, and to understand their priorities, strategies and tactics.”
“This is a weak report that fails to fully grasp the civil liberties and human rights implications of permitting the government sweeping access to the communications of innocent people,” Jameel Jaffer, of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement.
“It is jarring to read this report just weeks after the House voted to limit the NSA’s ‘backdoor’ searches, and just days after the Supreme Court’s cellphone search decision defending privacy rights in the digital age,” Jaffer added.