NSA surveillance said to be broader than initially believed

The National Security Agency’s (NSA) reach covers about 75 percent of all U.S. Internet traffic through a slew of partnerships with some of the largest telecom companies in the country, according to a Wall Street Journal report released late Tuesday.

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According to the report, gathered from interviews with current and former government officials and telecom industry workers, telecom companies like AT&T filter the data for the NSA, but in looking for communications that begin or end outside of the country, often sweep up unrelated domestic communications.

In addition, the surveillance network at times retains the content of emails and phone calls sent between U.S. citizens as part of a dragnet meant to capture correspondences between foreign targets.

The NSA defended the practice, telling the Journal that if domestic communications are “incidentally collected during NSA’s lawful signals intelligence activities,” that the agency follows “minimization procedures that are approved by the U.S. attorney general and designed to protect the privacy of United States persons.”

The NSA is not “wallowing will-nilly” in the domestic communications of U.S. citizens, the official added.

The latest revelations come on the heels of a report last week that the NSA broke privacy rules or illegally overstepped its authority thousands of times to obtain communications of U.S. citizens and foreigners in the U.S. 

The audit found the NSA obtained private communications thousands of times without proper authorization because of typographical errors or a failure to properly implement compliance safeguards.