NSA Releases Documents Showing It Spied On Americans

Spy agency began email surveillance program in 2008, reported it to oversight court in 2011.

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Despite denials from government officials, documents reveal a domestic spying program that has been in place for years.

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In the wake of leaked documents that have drawn massive scrutiny from the American public over domestic wiretapping, the top intelligence office has declassified three documents to, as one senior official says, "get a sense of the really effective self-policing that goes on at the NSA."

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The three court opinions appeared on a new website, IContheRecord.tumblr.com, which says on its homepage was created at the direction of President Barack Obama to offer great transparency on the Intelligence Community. The documents outline the actions taken by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court – a secretive body designed to monitor intelligence gathering – following reports that the NSA was inadvertently collecting communications made by Americans within the U.S.

A senior government official said Wednesday the NSA began in 2008 collecting information on Americans without any link to terrorist activities. It revealed the program to the FISA court in 2011, when it ordered the NSA to end the practice. The official spoke with reporters on the condition of anonymity.

The court ordered NSA to "beef up" its technology to avoid the inadvertent collection of information, and limited the amount of time it could retain what it calls "upstream collection" from five years to two.

This kind of intelligence gathering, authorized under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, involves intelligence agencies searching communications for specific email addresses of people connected with suspected terrorist activity.

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The NSA's technology could grab screenshots of an email inbox where these specific addresses appeared. In these screenshots, other emails could show up, including an American with no known terrorist activity corresponding with another American.

"That's the critical aspect of the problem here," the official said of what the NSA calls "multi-communication transaction," and is illegal under Section 702.

The NSA discovered this and brought it to the court's attention in 2011. The court ordered the NSA to improve its intelligence gathering infrastructure to limit what it is able to collect.

The newly released documents come a day after a Wall Street Journal report that the NSA spies on as much as 75 percent of all U.S. Internet traffic.

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