Newly released documents originally obtained by Edward Snowden show that since 2010 the U.S. National Security Agency has used vast amounts of phone and Internet data to create complex webs of information about Americans’ social connections, The New York Times reported Saturday.
By analyzing huge troves of email and phone metadata, the agency can pinpoint whom a person travels with, as well as an individual’s location at a given time and other information, according to the documents obtained by the Times.
The data analysis began after the overturning of a policy directive that had prevented the NSA from tracking U.S. citizens. The agency is now allowed to track Americans, as long as the NSA believes they are tied in some way to a person or organization of interest overseas.
The report said the agency regularly conducts “large-scale graph analysis on very large sets of communications metadata without having to check foreignness” of the person they are observing.
The agency further analyzes the data by plugging in publically available information from voter registration rolls, internet sites like Facebook, travel records and GPS locations.
The revelation is the latest about the activities of the secretive and controversial National Security Agency, which has come under public scrutiny in the last few months after Snowden – a former contractor that worked with the agency – leaked documents to several news organizations. The documents showed that the agency had collected email and phone data on millions of Americans.
Previous reports have revealed that the NSA collects metadata on Americans. The new report shows how that data can be used to track the movements and associations of citizens, both online and off.
Because the analyses are only of metadata, the NSA does not have to obtain a warrant from an intelligence court in order to track people, the Times report said.
The agency lobbied for years to be able to perform such analyses. It was blocked from doing so over concerns about privacy until 2008, when the administration of then-President George W. Bush granted the agency permission.