The NSA is using keywords to search the contents of most communications that pass in and out of the United States, the New York Times reports. The surveillance is far broader than the programs the agency has previously admitted to, which are known to "inadvertently" collect the communications of American citizens who directly or indirectly communicate with foreign targets.
An anonymous intelligence official says the NSA searches for communications containing "selectors," or keywords, related to surveillance targets by making a temporary copy of most emails and texts that cross the border for analysts to review. The process reportedly requires at least one party to be located overseas, and does not allow for "retrospective searching." The cross-border collection was authorized in 2008 under the FISA Amendments Act, the same law that gave the green light to the PRISM program.
According to one former intelligence official, the practice of capturing communications that are "about" surveillance targets rather than to or from them caused debate within the Obama administration. That collection process — which occurs without a warrant — is likely part of the NSA's "Upstream" operations, which use fiberoptic intercepts to filter through vast quantities of raw internet traffic. Such dragnet operations often involve the complicity of telecommunications companies, as evidenced in 2006 when Mark Klein, a former network engineer, revealed that the NSA had installed equipment at an AT&T switching facility which diverted internet traffic into government databanks.