The NSA (National Security Agency) is tracking Americans' social connections, their travel partners, and locations at various times, according to an extensive New York Times report that cites documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The paper reports that monitoring began in November 2010, when the NSA lifted restrictions and began allowing the analysis of phone-call and e-mail logs in order to examine Americans' "network of associations" for foreign-intelligence purposes. A January 2011 memo confirmed that the policy change allowed the agency to "discover and track" connections between Americans and intelligence targets overseas.
The documents Snowden shared indicate the NSA can track Americans' "bank codes, insurance information, Facebook profiles, passenger manifests, voter registration rolls, and GPS location information, as well as property records and unspecified tax data," the Times reported.
Thus far, the NSA has declined to comment on how many Americans, including those with "no wrongdoing," have been tracked. We also don't know what has come out of the monitoring. According to the Times report, "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." Also unclear: which phone and e-mail databases the NSA uses to create the "social network diagrams." NSA officials would not offer that information. However, the large database of Americans' domestic phone-call records revealed in June was not used.
These latest developments will certainly only heighten Americans' anxiety over the NSA's activity and further the debate that its policies may violate individuals' civil liberties. Snowden himself remains in temporary asylum in Russia. (The New York Times)