Earlier this month, President Obama admitted that the US has "significant capabilities" for surveillance, but also that it shows restraint. Since whistleblower Edward Snowden first revealed the extent of the country's spying efforts, the Obama administration has repeatedly insisted that the programs are narrowly targeted towards the communications of foreign individuals, that the actual contents of email and telephone conversations are not monitored by its programs, and that they are limited in scope. Today, however, The Wall Street Journal cites current and former US officials who claim that the government's reach is far broader than you know.

Not only do the Journal's sources corroborate the idea that the NSA can read the actual contents of your email in certain circumstances, they claim that the government's surveillance infrastructure isn't designed merely to collect foreign communications. In addition to intercepting internet traffic that passes through undersea cables and would clearly carry foreign traffic — like the infamous AT&T facility in San Francisco — the US government has allegedly set up filtering stations in major metropolitan areas across the United States, and can now reach roughly 75 percent of all internet traffic in the US.

Why is the domestic reach of PRISM so broad, if its targets are supposed to be foreign?

Moreover, the Journal claims that not only does the US government have the ability to collect loads of domestic data, but that intelligence agencies have actually done so indiscriminately in the past. During the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, the FBI and NSA reportedly teamed up with Qwest Communications to monitor "the content of all email and text communications in the Salt Lake City Area," according to the publication's sources.

Still, the Journal's sources paint a picture of a surveillance system that depends heavily on the participation of telecommunications companies, where the NSA and FBI don't necessarily have direct access to all the data they could theoretically touch. The publication describes a series of "cuts" where the NSA first has to negotiate with telecom companies to grant them access to particular "streams of internet traffic" that it thinks are valid targets, and where those telecom companies might actually have the power to say no. Then, the NSA reportedly makes a second "cut" where it decides what to keep and what to toss back, which could mean that the NSA does indeed "touch" only 1.6 percent of the world's internet traffic at any given moment. But again, it can make those decision based on the actual contents of those communications, not merely metadata, according to the Journal.

The US government argues that when it does inadvertently collect the communications of US citizens, it must immediately try to "minimize" that data, but there are a number of exceptions that allow the NSA to keep that data anyhow. What's more, the NSA has allegedly racked up thousands of policy violations and is expected to police itself. The leader of the secret court responsible for approving these surveillance programs has admitted that he has no ability to independently verify whether the NSA is complying with the rules.

Why is the domestic reach of PRISM so broad, if its targets are supposed to be foreign?