The most recent batch of leaked files from Edward Snowden shows the NSA has collected data on far more ordinary citizens, American and non-American alike, than those the NSA would consider dangerous.
Of all the files retained, The Washington Post describes the majority of them as being “useless by the analysts,” and telling stories of “love and heartbreak, illicit sexual liaisons, mental-health crises, political and religious conversions, financial anxieties and disappointed hopes.”
A majority of the collected files, some 65,000, were “minimized” to protect the identities of citizens, but some 900 email addresses were left unchanged and could be used to identify citizens.
This same article from The Post continues by describing one way the NSA has violated the rights of all American citizens. The NSA collected, as the article says, “medical records,” which under the Health Information Privacy and Security Act of 2007, are protected as private information and require any entity which houses, uses, or accesses private medical information to notify the citizen of whom the medical information refers.
One disturbing fact gathered from the leak shows the NSA analysts need only to have a “reasonable belief” the person they are collecting data from is foreign. This means if an email or chat is in a language other than English, the analyst can begin to collect their data.
One analyst even claims data collection would not just take place on the person writing in the foreign language, but on those including in the original targets “buddy list” as it was assumed they were foreign nationals also.
Collection on such a mass scale also offers a view into how the FISA Amendments changed data collection methods. These amendments gave the NSA authorization to collect data on all but four foreign countries in the world, which civil liberties groups claim to be far-retching.