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The National Security Agency is putting a stop to one of its most controversial practices: the collection of American emails and text messages.
The NSA, the country’s primary intelligence agency, has historically had the authority to monitor communication sent from American citizens that mention foreign individuals targeted for surveillance by the agency — which resulted in warrantless searches. Now, the NSA is apparently rethinking its policy on the matter, and will stop spying on communications that are solely “about” an intelligence target. The agency will continue to monitor U.S. citizens who are actually in direct contact with foreign intelligence targets, the NSA wrote in a statement.
While supporters say this type of wiretapping is critical to national security, privacy advocates and other critics of the practice have long called it as a violation of the Fourth Amendment, according to The Atlantic. One of the issues being that the government intercepted communications based on what was contained within, rather than who sent or received the message. Not only that, but due to certain technically difficulties, the NSA has actually been illegally searching American communications without a warrant, the New York Times reported.
The NSA has been trying to adhere to a 2011 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruling that deemed such “about” communications unlawful. Reportedly, some internet companies bundle together emails for packaging and processing — meaning that if one email contained information about a surveillance target, the NSA would sweep up the entire bundle. This, the court decided, resulted in illegal warrantless searches. The FISC allowed these searches to continue, but with special rules that the agency has had trouble adhering to, Engadget reported. Due to this, the FISC delayed reauthorizing the broader surveillance program until the NSA halted its “about” collection practices entirely.
In addition to halting the collection of American communications that solely mention intelligence targets, the NSA said it will “delete the vast majority” of previously collected data and communications “as soon as practicable.”