The National Security Agency acquired 56,000 e-mails and other Internet communications annually over three years that had nothing to do with terrorism.
The revelation comes from three Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinions declassified today by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
The NSA told the court in 2011 that it had accidentally collected an estimated 56,000 Internet communications by Americans or people in the U.S. that were unconnected to terrorism, a byproduct of collecting communications that are in bundled data packets from fiber-optic cables or other channels that travel through the U.S. telecommunications system. The court ordered the NSA to limit the material it collects and how long it keeps it, and the NSA agreed to limit storage of such bundled communications to two years. The court also ordered the NSA to destroy all bundled communications collected under the program between 2008 and 2011.
The news comes several hours after the Wall Street Journal reported that the NSA has the capability to spy on 75 percent of all U.S. Internet traffic. The Journal maintains that the NSA is capable of observing much more of Americans’ online communications than officials have acknowledged.
In a statement to Fox News, the NSA defended the program, saying that it was charged with defending the country from foreign foes and protecting the rights of U.S. persons.
“It’s not either/or,” the statement said. “It’s both.”
Fox noted that the programs the Journal describes are different from those described by Edward Snowden, who leaked details earlier this year surrounding an NSA program that collected phone records as well as the NSA’s PRISM program. PRISM involved requests to Internet companies for data they had stored.