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  • An illustration picture shows the logo of the National Security Agency on an iPhone in Berlin, Jun. 7, 2013.

    An illustration picture shows the logo of the National Security Agency on an iPhone in Berlin, Jun. 7, 2013. | Photo: Reuters

Published 5 March 2019

This initiative spied on millions of U.S. citizens in the name of supposedly detecting 'terrorists.'

The United States National Security Agency (NSA) shut down an espionage system which was aimed at analyzing U.S. citizens' phone calls and text messages, the New York Times reported using a senior Republican congressional aide as a source.

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“The agency has not used the system in months, and the Trump administration might not ask Congress to renew its legal authority, which is set to expire at the end of the year, according to the aide, Luke Murry, the House minority leader’s national security adviser,” the NYT reported.

Created by President George W. Bush in 2001, this espionage program came to the media spotlight in 2013, when former CIA employee Edward J. Snowden let the public know that the NSA had access to telephone and Internet records from millions of Verizon telephone operator users.

At that time, Snowden leaked about 1.7 million top secret documents, the copies of which he got while working for Booz Allen Hamilton, one of the U.S. government's largest military and intelligence contractors. These documents showed secret treaties that existed among governments to transfer metadata and records to the NSA.

According to Rebelion.org, this collection of personal data for surveillance occurred through the introduction of spyware in popular applications such as Angry Birds or Google Maps, the hacking iOS operating systems, the infection of computer networks with malware and the interception of emails from Hotmail, Outlook or Gmail.

Initially, the White House defended the existence of this surveillance program as "a critical tool" to combat terrorism; however, due to wide-spread public criticism, the U.S. Congress replaced the NSA program with the 2015 Freedom Act.

As result of this new legal framework, since 2017, the NSA no longer had the authority to collect U.S. citizens bulk information, and it was required to obtain a court order on specific targets.

Since the Snowden affair, the control of the big data related to calls and text messages has evolved, however, according to the NYT, the purpose of the monitoring agencies is still to analyze the links that people establish through networks with the aim of finding terrorism suspects.


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