The NSA and other Western spy agencies came under intense scrutiny following the massive Snowden leaks that revealed their tremendous powers when it comes to collecting increasing amounts of personal data. And while the U.S. government had to take steps to try to limit the NSA’s reach following these revelations, it turns out that the intelligence agency can bypass existing laws and still collect plenty of data – such as email – even though it’s not supposed to be legal

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The New York Times reports that the NSA has found a way to replace the bulk email data collection program that was supposed to end in December 2011. The program was shut down for “operational and resource reasons,” but the operation itself continued from outside the U.S. Until December 2011, the NSA was allowed to collect data that is subject to oversight by an intelligence court.

New evidence discovered by the Times following a Freedom of Information Act request shows the agency managed to establish a similar data collecting program on foreign soil. That means the NSA isn’t spying on your email from the U.S., but from other countries where the agency’s activities aren’t subject to U.S. laws, regulation and oversight.

According to the newly discovered report, NSA’s methods for replacing the email program were still legal. The agency collected email data from other countries, as Internet data can be accessed on optic cables abroad, and got email data without a warrant in the U.S. as long as it was needed for targeting noncitizens abroad.

The secret program allowed the NSA to look at “social links revealed by Americans’ email patterns, but without collecting the data in bulk from American telecommunications companies — and with less oversight by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court,” as the Times explains.

The object of these operations is to keep people safe, many will rightly argue. And to be clear, these programs don’t affect most people, aside from the fact that information about them might be stored on NSA’s servers. But what’s troubling is that the NSA can collect data about Americans from outside of the USA without breaking any laws.

“The document makes it clear that N.S.A. is able to get all the Internet metadata it needs through foreign collection,” Timothy Edgar told the Times. “The change it made to its procedures in 2010 allowed it to exploit metadata involving Americans. Once that change was made, it was no longer worth the effort to collect Internet metadata inside the United States, in part because doing so requires N.S.A. to deal with” any restrictions. Edgar, a professor at Brown University, served as a privacy official in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence under both Bush and Obama.

The Times‘ full report is available at the source link.

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