The New York Times reports that the National Security Agency (NSA) is temporarily copying and sifting through "apparently most" e-mails and text-based communications crossing the U.S. border:
The National Security Agency is searching the contents of vast amounts of Americans’ e-mail and text communications into and out of the country, hunting for people who mention information about foreigners under surveillance, according to intelligence officials. [...]
While it has long been known that the agency conducts extensive computer searches of data it vacuums up overseas, that it is systematically searching — without warrants — through the contents of Americans’ communications that cross the border reveals more about the scale of its secret operations.
NSA officials say they are just doing their job. NSA spokeswoman Judith A. Emmel didn't directly comment on the border issue, but told the Times, "In carrying out its signals intelligence mission, N.S.A. collects only what it is explicitly authorized to collect."
The NSA bases this authority on the 2008 FISA Amendments Act (FAA), which authorized the agency to snoop through text communications on domestic soil without a warrant as long as the "target" was non-citizen outside the country.
Many at the time, including our own Tim Lee, warned that the legislation could be interpreted in just this fashion.
The next time you think about sending an e-mail to your friend in Berlin or your grandmother in Canada, remember that the NSA might be watching.