Documents newly released by the British newspaper The Guardian, obtained along with others via Edward Snowden, indicate that under both the Obama and Bush administrations, the U.S. has been collecting, data mining, and analyzing email metadata, under an NSA program known as “Steller Wind”. The data collected under Stellar Wind included the “To” and “From” email addresses of an email conversation, along with the originating IP addresses sending the email, and was used, among other things, for a practice known as “contact chaining”.
According to the documents obtained by the Guardian, in the beginning the metadata was collected for “communications with at least one communicant outside the United States or for which no communicant was known to be a citizen of the United States,” however eventually the NSA was granted permission to “analyze communications metadata associated with United States persons and persons believed to be in the United States.”
In otherwords, potentially anyone and everyone.
In a statement by the Obama administration’s Director of Communications for National Intelligence, Shawn Turner, Turner stated that “The internet metadata collection program authorized by the Fisa court was discontinued in 2011 for operational and resource reasons and has not been restarted,” adding that “The program was discontinued by the executive branch as the result of an interagency review.”
The “Fisa” court is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court.
However, others of the leaked documents suggest that even today some email data is being collected, such as email streams where one correspondent is in the United States.
One use of this data has been a practice known as “contact chaining”. Contact chaining is when security agencies analyze and look at those who correspond with those who are corresponding with targeted individuals. In other words, they look at those with two degrees of separation from persons of interest.
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Contact chaining was not allowed prior to 9/11.