A new document leaked by former NSA contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden reveals that the US spy agency the National Security Agency (NSA) steals up to 250 million online address books each year.
The document leaked to the Washington Post shows how the NSA steals a substantial portion of the world’s e-mail and instant messaging accounts. The agency’s program steals the data of many Americans on the US soil.
Shedding light on details of the NSA’s new controversial tactic, called harvesting data, Washington Post says that based on Snowden’s top-secret documents “The National Security Agency is harvesting hundreds of millions of contact lists from personal e-mail and instant messaging accounts around the world, many of them belonging to Americans.”
“The collection program, which has not been disclosed before, intercepts e-mail address books and “buddy lists” from instant messaging services as they move across global data links. Online services often transmit those contacts when a user logs on, composes a message, or synchronizes a computer or mobile device with information stored on remote servers,” the Post writes.
“During a single day last year, the NSA’s Special Source Operations branch collected 444,743 e-mail address books from Yahoo, 105,068 from Hotmail, 82,857 from Facebook, 33,697 from Gmail and 22,881 from unspecified other providers, according to an internal NSA PowerPoint presentation. Those figures, described as a typical daily intake in the document, correspond to a rate of more than 250 million per year.”
The data collection, which according to the leaked documents takes place outside the US soil, takes place when users log in, compose a message or sync devices.
Scrutinizing the data, allows NSA to seek hidden connections and to map relationships between people of interest to the agency.
Major companies that provide Internet services and products, including Google, Facebook and Yahoo, claim they have no knowledge of or participation in providing access to their customers’ data to the NSA.
The NSA’s spying on telephone calls and Internet data first came to light by Snowden in June.
Snowden said on Friday that the US government spying programs on telephone and Internet connections around the world are making people less safe.
The programs “hurt our economy. They hurt our country. They limit our ability to speak and think and live and be creative, to have relationships and to associate freely,” Snowden added.