The National Security Agency has been collecting hundreds of millions of address books from people’s email and Facebook accounts, according to The Washington Post.
Millions of Americans’ contacts have been swept up even though the collection takes place outside the United States, according to sources quoted in the Post.
The NSA has not been authorized by Congress or the intelligence court to collect bulk contact lists, and avoids restrictions because of the way it collects the data overseas the report said.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act only covers surveillance that takes place in the United States and targets Americans, according to the report.
The disclosure is the latest revelation of mass electronic information gathering by the NSA after contractor Edward Snowden’s leak earlier this year.
Shawn Turner, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said the program is aimed at “valid foreign intelligence targets,” including terrorists, drug smugglers and human traffickers. He added that the NSA is required to minimize the “acquisition, use and dissemination” of contacts of U.S. citizens.
According to a NSA presentation that described a typical daily intake, the agency gathered 444,743 address books from Yahoo; 105,068 from Hotmail; 82,857 from Facebook; 33,697 from Gmail and 22,881 from others.
The technology providers told the Post they were unaware of the collection. Yahoo said it would begin encrypting all of its email connections by default beginning in January.