The National Security Agency (NSA) has been accused of collecting and indexing emails, tweets, internet searches and other data belonging to American citizens.
According to Wired, former NSA technical director William Binney said during a panel discussion that NSA director general Keith Alexander was playing a "word game", after the latter said that the agency does not collect files on American citizens.
Binney accused Alexander of deception during a speech, saying that the NSA began building its data collection system to spy on American citizens prior to the 9/11 attacks, and then used the terrorist attacks that occurred that year as the excuse to launch the data collection project.
He said: “It started in February 2001 when they started asking telecoms for data. That to me tells me that the real plan was to spy on Americans from the beginning.”
He claimed that the spying was the reason he left the NSA in 2001.
Alexander previously said that the NSA "absolutely" does not maintain files on American citizens, and said that "anybody who would tell you that we're keeping files or dossiers on the American people knows that's not true".
Alexander said that the NSA's job was foreign intelligence, not domestic, and that the agency is constantly monitored in everything it does. He said if the NSA ‘incidentally' picked up the data of Americans in the process, the agency was required to ‘minimise' the data so that no one can see it unless there's a crime that's been committed.
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) staff attorney Alex Abdo said in a panel discussion that a gaping loophole in the laws governing the NSA allows the agency to do dragnet surveillance of non-Americans and in the process, sweep up the data of Americans they may be communicating with and hold onto that data, even though the Americans are not the target.
US-based security blogger Jeffrey Carr told SC Magazine that he did not see any way around democratic governments engaging in these types of activities and in his opinion, law enforcement and intelligence agencies would not be properly doing their job if they ignored or were restricted from accessing internet-based communications for their investigations.
He said: “We all enjoy how the internet has made the world a smaller place. Part of the price for that is that it's also easier for bad actors to cause disruption and chaos across borders without leaving their homeland. That enhanced capability can only be combated by granting governments' legal access to communications data (email, VoIP, IRC, etc.) stored at the ISP level.”