NSA secretly expanded Internet spying

NSA secretly expanded Internet spying
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The Obama administration has expanded its warrantless surveillance of Americans’ overseas Internet browsing in an effort to find hackers, The New York Times reported Thursday.

The revelations come from classified National Security Agency documents included in the cache leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

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The report says the Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2012 wrote two secret memos that granted the NSA authority to snoop on Internet cables abroad. The intent was to find information on domestic cyberattacks that originated overseas.

The DOJ told the spy agency it could only monitor Internet addresses and “cyber signatures” — the patterns of digital intrusions —  it could link to foreign governments.

The DOJ pointed to a previously approved authority by the secretive court overseeing the NSA that allowed the agency to use its warrantless surveillance program to monitor foreign governments.

According to the Times, the documents show the NSA overstepped its mandate, collecting data on hackers not clearly affiliated with foreign authorities.

Intelligence officials defended the practice as legal and useful.

“It should come as no surprise that the U.S. government gathers intelligence on foreign powers that attempt to penetrate U.S. networks and steal the private information of U.S. citizens and companies,” Brian Hale, the spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told the Times.

“Targeting overseas individuals engaging in hostile cyber activities on behalf of a foreign power is a lawful foreign intelligence purpose,” Hale added.

It was revealed in late 2013 that the NSA tapped into the overseas Internet cables that link data centers for Internet giants including Yahoo and Google. The program is known as “Muscular” and operated jointly with British intelligence agencies.

This latest disclosure comes days after President Obama signed into law a surveillance reform bill, the USA Freedom Act, which ends the NSA’s bulk collection of U.S. phone data.

The new law, however, won't touch many of the Internet spying campaigns.

Privacy hawks on Capitol Hill are already eyeing a 2017 reauthorization deadline for several Internet surveillance programs, hoping to use the threat of expiration to push for reform.