Report: NSA collected US email records, Internet use for years

The Bush White House authorized the NSA to collect US records following the 9/11 attacks, documents show

The U.S. National Security Agency collected the email and Internet use records of some U.S. residents for about a decade following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to documents published Thursday by the U.K. newspaper the Guardian.

The NSA's collection of email and Internet use metadata was authorized by former President George W. Bush after 9/11 and continued for two years under President Barack Obama, according to the Guardian's report.

The Guardian published two secret documents on the so-called Stellar Wind collection program, a March 2009 NSA inspector general's report on the program and a November 2007 U.S. Department of Justice memo defending the collection.

The inspector general's report says the White House, including members of then-Vice President Dick Cheney's staff, pushed the NSA to collect more information on U.S. residents in the days following the terrorist attacks. When General Michael Hayden, the NSA's director at the time, said he didn't believe the NSA had the authority to collect U.S. communications, the White House granted the NSA additional authority.

Shawn Turner, spokesman for the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said the program stopped in 2011. "The Internet metadata collection program authorized by the FISA court was discontinued in 2011 for operational and resource reasons and has not been restarted," he said by email. "The program was discontinued by the executive branch as the result of an interagency review."

The new revelations of NSA surveillance on U.S. residents follow news reports earlier this month that the NSA is currently collecting all telephone records from Verizon Communications. The agency is also collecting email and Internet communications from nine Web companies, including Google, Microsoft and Apple, with some U.S. communications swept up along with foreign targets, according to news reports.

The NSA inspector general's report says 92 percent of the targets in the collection program from 2001 to 2007 were email addresses and phone calls outside the U.S. There were just over 3,000 targets in the U.S. during that time frame, according to the report.

The 2007 DOJ memo, from Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Wainstein, defended the program, saying it doesn't violate the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment protecting U.S. residents against unreasonable searches and seizures.

"We conclude that a person has no such expectation, however, in dialing, routing, addressing, or signaling information that does not concern the substance, purport, or meaning of communications," Wainstein wrote. "We note that the analysis of information legally within the possession of the Government is likely neither a 'search' nor a 'seizure' within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment."

The NSA's collection of telephone and Internet communications metadata included "routing, addressing, and signaling information that does not concern the substance" of the underlying communications, wrote Wainstein, now in private practice.

Wainstein didn't immediately respond to a request for a comment on the memo he authored. The DOJ memo came in response to an NSA request seeking to clarify that it had authorization to collect Internet metadata from U.S. residents.

NSA critics have said that the collection of metadata, including the recipients of phone calls and email and the time of the calls and emails, can tell a great deal about a person and is a privacy violation.

The NSA U.S. collections are "pretty outrageous," digital rights activist Sina Khanifar said in an email. "Anyone who claims that the NSA's surveillance hasn't been in violation of our Fourth Amendment rights is going to have a much harder time making that argument in light of this news."

Khanifar helped launch the website StopWatching.us two weeks ago, and the site has collected more than 512,000 signatures of people calling on the U.S. government to stop spying on them.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags governmentprivacyinternetMailBarack ObamaU.S. Department of JusticeDick CheneyInternet-based applications and servicesU.S. National Security AgencyGeorge W. BushMichael HaydenSina KhanifarKenneth WainsteinShawn TurnerU.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Grant Gross

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?