In its latest report stemming from leaked documents provided by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, The Guardian newspaper outlines a tool that gives intelligence analysts access to a wide range of data collected on the Internet.
From what we can glean — and keep in mind there are huge holes in our knowledge, because all of this is classified — the program, like the previously revealed PRISM, targets foreigners.
But, if you believe the way The Guardian frames the story, if an analyst strays from the safeguards put in place by the American government, they could have access to "nearly everything a typical user does on the Internet" — American or not.
The Guardian reports:
"... Trainining materials for XKeyscore detail how analysts can use it and other systems to mine enormous agency databases by filling in a simple on-screen form giving only a broad justification for the search. The request is not reviewed by a court or any NSA personnel before it is processed. ...
"Under US law, the NSA is required to obtain an individualized Fisawarrant only if the target of their surveillance is a 'US person', though no such warrant is required for intercepting the communications of Americans with foreign targets. But XKeyscore provides the technological capability, if not the legal authority, to target even US persons for extensive electronic surveillance without a warrant provided that some identifying information, such as their email or IP address, is known to the analyst."
The Guardian says the U.S. government is collecting so much data (more than 20 terabytes a day) that it can only store it for "as little as 24 hours." What's more, the slides published by The Guardian show U.S. analysts have access to the content of emails, Facebook chats or even anonymous Internet activity, like search terms.
The AP reports that in a statement the NSA defended the program.
"These types of programs allow us to collect the information that enables us to perform our missions successfully — to defend the nation and to protect U.S. and allied troops abroad," the NSA told the AP.
It's also important to note that President Obama has also defended PRISM, the similar program that was previously revealed.
Obama said the program targets only foreigners and it is monitored by Congress and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
"If people can't trust not only the executive branch, but also don't trust Congress and don't trust federal judges to make sure that we're abiding by the Constitution, due process and rule of law, then we're going to have some problems here," Obama said.
Earlier, we posted on the declassification of some documents that shed light on the safeguards governing the collection of phone call metadata.