Security

NSA to end warrantless collection of emails and texts about foreign targets

The National Security Agency will stop collecting Americans' emails and texts to people from other countries, and/or those that mention someone who is currently under surveillance.

Image: Declan McCullagh/CNET

The National Security Agency (NSA) will no longer collect Americans' emails and texts to foreign contacts mentioning certain surveilled individuals, according to a New York Times report published on Friday.

The collection of such communication was a part of a larger surveillance program that allowed the NSA to collect and read the emails and texts without a warrant. The highly controversial program was the subject of much criticism after it was leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

SEE: Why email encryption is failing, and how to fix it

Following the New York Times report, the NSA issued an official announcement where it said it was limiting its collection of data for the sake of US citizens' communications privacy. Per the announcement:

NSA will no longer collect certain internet communications that merely mention a foreign intelligence target. 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 NSA used the program to determine if certain American citizens were linked to terrorists, or terrorist organizations. However, many organizations have come out against the program, with the ACLU calling the NSA's actions "illegal."

As reported by the New York Times, the collection of the communications began as an accident. The data collection was originally ruled as a Fourth Amendment violation, but the NSA was allowed to continue collecting the data when it proposed that it be stored in specialized repository with limited access.

The revelations around the NSA's surveillance methods initially sparked a strong interest in email encryption. Newer services like Lavabit (used by Snowden himself) and Protonmail hit the market, while major providers like Google and Yahoo upped efforts in encryption as well.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. The NSA will officially end the collection of American emails and texts with people overseas that mention foreigners targeted for surveillance.
  2. The surveillance program allowed the interception of such communication without a warrant, and was unveiled as part of the Snowden revelations.
  3. The collection of such data sparked a renewed interest in email encryption, as a means of protecting one's privacy.

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