Saturday, 29 April 2017 12:18

NSA cuts back on domestic spying after court pressure Featured

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The US National Security Agency has backed down on one of its major surveillance programmes, announcing on Friday that it would stop collecting information from the US Internet backbone about foreign targets of interest, but only collect communications to and from those targets.

The agency appears to have come under pressure from the court that oversees its surveillance activities, judging from statements it issued on Friday.

"NSA will no longer collect certain Internet communications that merely mention a foreign intelligence target," a statement from the agency said.

"This information is referred to in the intelligence community as 'about' communications in Section 702 'upstream' Internet surveillance. Instead, NSA will limit such collection to Internet communications that are sent directly to or from a foreign target."

The fact that the NSA was conducting this kind of surveillance was revealed in June 2013 by former NSA contract Edward Snowden.

The NSA said further, that though it did not have the ability right now to stop collecting "about" information "without losing some other important data", it would stop the practice "to reduce the chance that it would acquire communications of US persons or others who are not in direct contact with a foreign intelligence target".

"...even though the Agency was legally allowed to retain such 'about' information previously collected under Section 702, the NSA will delete the vast majority of its upstream Internet data to further protect the privacy of US persons communications," the agency said.

In an accompanying statement, the NSA acknowledged that there had been lapses in surveillance, saying "While the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was considering the government's annual application to renew the Section 702 certifications, NSA reported several earlier, inadvertent compliance incidents related to queries involving US persons information in 702 'upstream' Internet collection.

"Although the incidents were not willful, NSA was required to, and did, report them to both Congress and the FISC."

The NSA said it had self-reported the incidents to both Congress and the FISC. "Following these reports, the FISC issued two extensions as NSA worked to fix the problems before the government submitted a new application for continued Section 702 certification. The FISC recently approved the changes after an extensive review."


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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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