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New details emerge of NSA warrantless snooping on Americans

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The National Security Agency can use its vast online data-gathering and surveillance system called Prism to monitor U.S. citizens without a warrant if their communications are "reasonably believed to contain foreign intelligence information or evidence of a crime," according to new leaked documents.

The Guardian newspaper Thursday published two more documents relating to Prism, the vast, comprehensive technology that vacuums up all email, video, text or other online communications from nine leading U.S. Internet companies.

Officials have said the program is used only to target those "reasonably believed" to be foreigners overseas, but the two documents The Guardian published Thursday reveal that NSA analysts can look at communications "from to or about" U.S. persons that are "inadvertently" collected during surveillance on foreign targets.

The two documents, dated in 2009 and signed by Attorney General Eric Holder, are submissions to the special secret court that authorizes electronic communications monitoring under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.

The first document outlines procedures for deciding whether to target a suspect for surveillance under FISA section 702; the second for handling communications "from to or about" U.S. persons — procedures known as "minimization."

The documents show that even though 702 authorities are supposedly for the collection of foreign intelligence from foreign targets, the communications of U.S. citizens, corporations and legal foreign residents — collectively known as "U.S. persons" — can still be collected, retained and used.

"These documents confirm many of our worst fears," said Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the ACLU. "The 'targeting' procedures indicate that the NSA is engaged in broad surveillance of Americans' international communications," he added.

"The 'minimization' procedures that supposedly protect Americans' constitutional rights turn out to be far weaker than we imagined they could be," Mr. Jaffer continued in a statement.

"For example, the NSA claims the authority to collect and disseminate attorney-client communications — and even, in some circumstances, to turn them over to Justice Department prosecutors. The government also claims the authority to retain Americans' purely domestic communications in certain situations."

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About the Author
Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman is an award-winning reporter for The Washington Times, covering foreign affairs, defense and cybersecurity. He was a senior editor and correspondent for United Press International for nearly a decade, and has covered the Department of Homeland Security since 2003. His reporting on the Sept. 11 Commission and the tortuous process by which some of its recommendations finally became ...

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