It probably comes as no surprise at this point, but we now have further evidence that the NSA has been building complicated graphs to track who Americans know, where they go, who they travel with, what they buy, who they're related to, and more. It's not just a matter of "listening to your phone calls" anymore. It sounds more like validation for any degree of narcissism you might feel—you are the star of your own movie, with a dedicated audience, after all.
The Times has the story, but Kos and Gizmodo have breakdowns if you can't get past the firewall.
A memorandum leaked by Snowden shows that prior to 2011, the agency couldn't indiscriminately search metadata without checking for the "foreignness" of the target—that is, Americans and non-Americans were treated differently. But that changed:
The policy shift was intended to help the agency “discover and track” connections between intelligence targets overseas and people in the United States, according to an N.S.A. memorandum from January 2011. The agency was authorized to conduct “large-scale graph analysis on very large sets of communications metadata without having to check foreignness” of every e-mail address, phone number or other identifier, the document said. Because of concerns about infringing on the privacy of American citizens, the computer analysis of such data had previously been permitted only for foreigners.
The agency can augment the communications data with material from public, commercial and other sources, including bank codes, insurance information, Facebook profiles, passenger manifests, voter registration rolls and GPS location information, as well as property records and unspecified tax data, according to the documents. They do not indicate any restrictions on the use of such “enrichment” data, and several former senior Obama administration officials said the agency drew on it for both Americans and foreigners...
In the 2011 memo explaining the shift, N.S.A. analysts were told that they could trace the contacts of Americans as long as they cited a foreign intelligence justification. That could include anything from ties to terrorism, weapons proliferation or international drug smuggling to spying on conversations of foreign politicians, business figures or activists.
It will be interesting to see, if we ever get to, how thin some of those "foreign intelligence" justifications might have been. I wonder if Snowden has any specific examples of how the agency has tracked American citizens in that seemingly endless briefcase of his.