US President Barack Obama’s administration secretly expanded the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance programme by allowing the spying organisation to monitor internet traffic of Americans, says a joint report by the New York TImes and ProPublica citing newly leaked classified documents from Edward Snowden.
The report comes just two days after Obama approved USA Freedom Act, a legislation restricting the NSA’s surveillance powers transferring the authority to store telephone communication metadata to private companies.
The US Department of Justice wrote two secret memos in 2012 to permit the NSA to tap into Internet cables to hunt for possible hackers, without having any warrants and on American soil, the report claims.
Obama administration made the move secretly without a public notice or debate.
The programme allowed the NSA to gather large volumes of US citizens’ communication data including private emails, trade secrets or business dealings if the exchange is done with a foreign source.
It is the latest part of the NSA’s warrantless surveillance programme which was first exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Snowden fled the US just before leaking the secret document and currently resides in Russia which granted him asylum.
The US Congress had initially authorised the spy agencies to target aliens backed by foreign governments but late Obama administration expanded the scope of the programme claiming the Internet blurred the lines between spies and criminals.
“Reliance on legal authorities that make theoretical distinctions between armed attacks, terrorism and criminal activity may prove impractical,” the White House National Security Council wrote in May 2009 in a classified policy report.
It is another example of the US surveillance programmes with questionable legal backing.
On May 7, a US appeals court concluded that the NSA bulk collection programme of telephone metadata exceeded the scope of what Congress authorised and was therefore illegal.