The NSA says it has “minimization procedures” that limit how deeply it can examine communications of U.S. citizens while they’re in the U.S., but it’s unclear whether they extend to foreign attorneys.
Earlier reports based on Snowden’s documents revealed the existence of other NSA programs, including the PRISM data-gathering program, which forces major tech firms to turn over the detailed contents of Internet communications, although those required court orders.
The difference this time is that the NSA is “tapping into the data centers as a backdoor activity, which made the tech firms extremely unhappy,” said attorney Pat Fowler, who handles data privacy and security cases from his Phoenix, Arizona office.
Indeed, several Google engineers who spend their days fighting hackers fired back with furious online responses to their systems being targeted.
And it’s quite possible Yahoo and Google weren’t the only ones, said Fowler, noting that Microsoft’s Hotmail, which with Google’s Gmail and Yahoo’s email dominate the email market.
“It wouldn’t be a stretch to think they might try to get that data from the other entities,” said Fowler.
Attorney Steven Bradbury, who headed of the Justice Department’s office of legal counsel until 2009, used to advise the president and executives on constitutional questions of privacy and security. Today he says public concerns about invasions of privacy are off base because the NSA is not allowed to target U.S. data abroad, and when it gets it, there are tight limits.
“Communications that travel over wires overseas are susceptible to interception by all kinds of foreign governments that are active in collecting and doing surveillance,” he said. “The difference is that the NSA and U.S. intelligence agencies are subject to strict rules and oversight. There’s much more protection for U.S. persons than for foreign citizens.”
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.