NSA caught sifting millions of email lists around the world

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The National Security Agency has been tapping into millions of email and instant messaging contact lists from around the world — including those of Americans who use Gmail, Facebook and other well-known sites, a new report found.

The justification? Rooting out terrorists and searching for links to criminal activity, The Washington Post reported.

The NSA has on a daily basis been accessing email accounts from Yahoo, Gmail, Facebook and Hotmail, as well as live chat services from a half a million buddy lists, The Associated Press reported.

Documents from contractor employee Edward Snowden initially tipped off journalists to the NSA practice. Officials with the spy agency ultimately confirmed the searches had gone forth, AP said.

The NSA’s Special Source Operations unit collected 440,000 email address records on a single day in 2012 — for a total of 250 million a year, AP reported.

NSA says its operation was legal. A spokesman for the agency, Shawn Turner, said intelligence officers had to abide by regulations that require them to “minimize the acquisition, use and dissemination” of information that actually identifies American citizens, AP said.

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