The New York Times has an update on a revelation in April that the National Security Agency went beyond legal limits in their intercepts of private e-mails and phone calls of Americans. Since April, members of Congress and other government officials have been looking into the NSA’s domestic surveillance program.
Those inquiries have led to concerns in Congress about the agency’s ability to collect and read domestic e-mail messages of Americans on a widespread basis, officials said. Supporting that conclusion is the account of a former N.S.A. analyst who, in a series of interviews, described being trained in 2005 for a program in which the agency routinely examined large volumes of Americans’ e-mail messages without court warrants. Two intelligence officials confirmed that the program was still in operation. […]
Representative Rush Holt, Democrat of New Jersey and chairman of the House Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, has been investigating the incidents and said he had become increasingly troubled by the agency’s handling of domestic communications.
In an interview, Mr. Holt disputed assertions by Justice Department and national security officials that the overcollection was inadvertent.
“Some actions are so flagrant that they can’t be accidental,” Mr. Holt said. […]
The inquiries and analyst’s account underscore how e-mail messages, more so than telephone calls, have proved to be a particularly vexing problem for the agency because of technological difficulties in distinguishing between e-mail messages by foreigners and by Americans. A new law enacted by Congress last year gave the N.S.A. greater legal leeway to collect the private communications of Americans so long as it was done only as the incidental byproduct of investigating individuals “reasonably believed” to be overseas.
But after closed-door hearings by three Congressional panels, some lawmakers are asking what the tolerable limits are for such incidental collection and whether the privacy of Americans is being adequately protected.
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