Monday, July 07, 2014

Officials Defend N.S.A. After New Privacy Details Are Reported

By DAVID E. SANGER and MATT APUZZO, NYT, JULY 6, 2014

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Sunday sought to play down new disclosures that the National Security Agency has swept up innocent and often personal emails from ordinary Internet users as it targets suspected terrorists in its global surveillance for potential threats.

Administration officials said the agency routinely filters out the communications of Americans and information that is of no intelligence value. The statements came in response to a report by The Washington Post, based on a trove of conversations intercepted by the N.S.A.

The Post’s analysis of the data, including information that Edward J. Snowden, the former intelligence contractor, had not revealed before, suggested that roughly nine in 10 communications involved people who were not the direct targets of surveillance. On Sunday, Robert Litt, the general counsel to the director of national intelligence, said in an interview that The Post’s article cites “figures that suggest foreign intelligence collection intercepts the communications of nine ‘bystanders’ for every ‘legally targeted’ foreigner.”

“These reports simply discuss the kind of incidental interception of communications that we have always said takes place under Section 702,” he said, referring to the law that governs the collection of information on foreigners. “We target only valid foreign intelligence targets under that authority, and the most that you could conclude from these news reports is that each valid foreign intelligence target talks to an average of nine people.” The administration has made no secret of the fact that, as it vacuums data from around the globe, it sometimes inadvertently collects information from innocent people, including some Americans. The Post article put that collection in deeply personal terms. It said baby pictures, risqué photos from webcam chats, medical records and conversations about sexual liaisons were among the N.S.A.’s documents.

(More here.)

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