After a four-month investigation by the Washington Post, it was revealed on Saturday that only 10 percent of data intercepted by the National Security Agency was linked to the intended targets. The rest of the 90 percent, consisted of both ordinary American and non-American Internet users who had their conversations intercepted and were “caught in a net the agency had cast for somebody else.”

The Washington Post reviewed approximately 160,000 intercepted e-mail’s and instant message’s, as well as 7,900 documents taken from over 11,000 online accounts. The daily lives of more than 10,000 account holders were recorded and catalogued, telling “stories of love and heartbreak, illicit sexual liaisons, mental health crises, political and religious conversions, financial anxieties and disappointed hopes.” Moreover, the Post reported that over 5,000 private photo’s were also collected.

The information gathered by the NSA, according to the report, provided a startling insight into the lives of ordinary American’s, but was crucially not of any intelligence value. On the other hand, the document showed that NSA’s surveillance efforts led to the capture of Umar Patek, “a suspect in the terrorist attack on the Indonesian island Bali in 2002; Muhammad Tahir Shahzad, a bomb builder in Pakistan; and other examples the Post is withholding at the request of the CIA so as not to interfere with current intelligence operations.”

Robert Litt, the general counsel to the director of national intelligence, commented on the news in an interview on Sunday:

““These reports simply discuss the kind of incidental interception of communications that we have always said takes place under Section 702,” he said. “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.””

However, Snowden also pointed out that the documents he provided the Post offered a path to a concrete debate about the costs and benefits of Section 702 surveillance.

“Even if one could conceivably justify the initial, inadvertent interception of baby pictures and love letters of innocent bystanders,” he added, “their continued storage in government databases is both troubling and dangerous. Who knows how that information will be used in the future?”

Read the report here


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(Image Credit:Didier Baertschiger)

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