NSA Collects Millions of Address Books, Buddy Lists

Yes, the NSA is collecting your address books and buddy lists too:

During a single day last year, the NSA’s Special Source Operations branch collected 444,743 e-mail address books from Yahoo, 105,068 from Hotmail, 82,857 from Facebook, 33,697 from Gmail and 22,881 from unspecified other providers, according to an internal NSA PowerPoint presentation. Those figures, described as a typical daily intake in the document, correspond to a rate of more than 250 million a year.

Each day, the presentation said, the NSA collects contacts from an estimated 500,000 buddy lists on live-chat services as well as from the inbox displays of Web-based e-mail accounts….Although the collection takes place overseas, two senior U.S. intelligence officials acknowledged that it sweeps in the contacts of many Americans. They declined to offer an estimate but did not dispute that the number is likely to be in the millions or tens of millions.

….Because of the method employed, the agency is not legally required or technically able to restrict its intake to contact lists belonging to specified foreign intelligence targets, he said. When information passes through “the overseas collection apparatus,” the official added, “the assumption is you’re not a U.S. person.”

….A senior U.S. intelligence official said the privacy of Americans is protected, despite mass collection, because “we have checks and balances built into our tools.”

The NSA’s collection of bulk phone records and bulk online records is overseen by the FISA court. That may not be much, but in theory anyway, at least it’s something. But the NSA’s collection of address books is done solely under presidential order and has no oversight at all. They can collect anything they want and use it any way they want.

Luckily for us, the NSA has “checks and balances” built into their tools, so you have nothing to worry about.