As two class actions are pending for violation of the Federal Wire Tap Act against Google and Yahoo! for harvesting contact lists, now it appears that NSA has also been harvesting “hundreds of millions of contact lists from personal e-mail and instant messaging accounts around the world, many of them belonging to Americans.” According to a report in the Washington Post:
During a single day last year, the NSA’s Special Source Operations branch collected 444,743 e-mail address books from Yahoo, 105,068 from Hotmail, 82,857 from Facebook, 33,697 from
Gmail and 22,881 from unspecified other providers, according to an internal NSA PowerPoint presentation.
Those figures, described as a typical daily intake in the document, correspond to a rate of more than 250 million a year.
Each day, the presentation said, the NSA collects contacts from an estimated 500,000 buddy lists on live-chat services as well as from the inbox displays of Web-based e-mail accounts.
The Washington Post report included that a spokesman for Office of the Director of National Intelligence which oversees the NSA, reported that the NSA:
...is focused on discovering and developing intelligence about valid foreign intelligence targets like terrorists, human traffickers and drug smugglers. We are not interested in personal information about ordinary Americans.
In the Google and Yahoo! class action lawsuits we may learn more about the NSA’s harvesting of webmail contact lists. Clearly harvesting webmail contact lists will remain front page news for some time.