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Latest Snowden Revelation: NSA Spying on Americans’ Facebook Profiles

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The US National Security Agency has been spying on the social media profiles of an unknown number of users, including US citizens, since 2010 in what it calls an effort to “discover and track” connections between Americans and suspected terrorists.

The New York Times reported Sunday that the latest revelation of NSA spying on Americans comes via documents provided to the paper by former NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who is wanted by the United States on espionage charges and is currently living in exile in Russia.

According to the leaked documents, the NSA surveillance began in November 2010 following a policy shift that lifted a prior ban on the ‘chaining’ of foreigners’ contacts once those ‘chains’ reached American citizens or legal residents. The new policy was enacted in an effort to assist the NSA “discover and track” connections between foreign intelligence subjects and American citizens.

Under the new policy, the NSA is allowed to use social media, geo-location information, tax and insurance records, and other sources, both public and private, to improve spying on phone and electronic communications. The newly leaked documents reveal that the NSA authorized the “large-scale graph analysis on very large sets of communications metadata without having to check foreignness” of every identifier, such as e-mail addresses and phone numbers.

Among the information Snowden leaked to the Times is a PowerPoint slide detailing how NSA analysts use software to diagram an individual’s location through time, as well as who they travel with and communicate with via e-mail and social media networks such as Facebook.

The NSA would not say how many Americans have been spied on under the new policy. However, the agency did say that it does not spy on Americans without first obtaining a court order. An NSA spokesperson also told the Times that “all data queries must include a foreign intelligence justification, period.”

Snowden’s newest disclosure is but the latest in a long line of revelations of US government spying on Americans that goes back to the post-9/11 period. The government, with the assistance of major telecommunications and Internet corporations, has been engaged in a sweeping and illegal surveillance dragnet of Americans’ phone and online communications since 2001. In service of the US-led ‘War on Terror,’ the NSA was authorized to conduct warrantless wiretapping and warrantless monitoring of Americans’ communications.

Under President Obama, Justice Department officials acknowledged that the NSA was guilty of “overcollection” of domestic communications, but claimed such illegal acts were unintentional and that the practice had been corrected. But last New Year’s Eve, Obama quietly signed into law a reauthorization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act of 2008, which permits the warrantless wiretapping of phone and electronic communications in which at least one of the persons involved is a foreigner.

Earlier this year, Snowden began revealing sweeping NSA surveillance of both Americans and foreigners, including the heads of state and other high-ranking officials in US allies and partners including Brazil, the European Union, France, India, Mexico, and the United Nations. The NSA also spied on allies Germany and Japan, causing widespread government and public outrage in the former. This surveillance was conducted in cooperation with intelligence agencies in the so-called ‘Five Eyes’ nations– the US, plus Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

In June, Snowden was charged by US authorities with violating the 1917 Espionage Act. He fled from Hong Kong to Russia, where he was granted temporary asylum.

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