The Washington Post has poured cold water on the idea that ordinary people have nothing to fear from NSA snooping.
After a four month investigation it turns out that ordinary internet users, American and non-American alike, far outnumber legally targeted foreigners in the communications intercepted by the National Security Agency from US digital networks.
Nine of 10 account holders found in a large cache of intercepted conversations, which former NSA contractor Edward Snowden were not the intended surveillance targets but were caught in a net the agency had cast for somebody else.
Nearly half of the surveillance files, contained names, e-mail addresses or other details that the NSA marked as belonging to US citizens or residents.
The reason for this is because to be effective the spooks have to track alias accounts. Months of tracking communications across more than 50 alias accounts, the files show, led directly to the 2011 capture in Abbottabad of Muhammad Tahir Shahzad, a Pakistan-based bomb builder, and Umar Patek, a suspect in a 2002 terrorist bombing on the Indonesian island of Bali.
But a huge chunk of useless files have been retained. This include what the Post calls “stories of love and heartbreak, illicit sexual liaisons, mental-health crises, political and religious conversions, financial anxieties and disappointed hopes “.
The daily lives of more than 10,000 people who were not targeted, not connected to any terrorist activity are catalogued and recorded.
The sweep is huge. If a real target entered an online chat room, the NSA collected the words and identities of every person who posted there, as well as every person who simply “lurked.”