NSA collects contact lists and address books from just about everyone

Further revelations have emerged relating to the spying operations of the US National Security Agency (NSA). The Washington Post reported that the agency is systematically harvesting contact lists from email accounts, instant messaging, and social networks from around the world, including those of Americans.

According to recent disclosures, the agency is attempting to draw up a graph detailing all the connections existing between American citizens, and could be used to build a detailed picture of any one person's social contacts, locations and close friends.

The agency apparently chains together the metadata is collects elsewhere to build this complex web of interconnections, and the programme of contact collection revealed yesterday will be an instrumental part of this process.

Much of this information comes from an internal NSA PowerPoint presentation that was part of the trove of files released by mega-leaker Edward Snowden earlier this year.

The presentation alleges that during a single day in 2012, the "Special Source Operations" branch of the NSA collected 444,743 address books from Yahoo Mail, 105,068 from Hotmail, 82,857 from Facebook, 33,697 from Gmail and 22,881 from other, unspecified sources.

This is described as a typical daily haul for the snooping agency.

The data is collected thanks to secretive arrangements with foreign telecoms companies and friendly intelligence services, and uses a collection of sensitive hubs through which the majority of this data passes.

The NSA has not obtained any permission from Congress to undertake this kind of programme. Apparently, it requires a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing in a suspect before that person's contact lists are accessed, but there is no such process in deciding whose information is included in the database in the first place.

In short: the NSA has gathered everyone's contacts, but promises not to look at them unless there's a really good reason. I hope you feel safe.