As one could have predicted, news is slowly emerging that the sweeping statements provided by the government about the limits of the information it was collecting are turning out to be false. They said that they only collect metadata and not the contents of the messages themselves. But a new report says that they do search through the data looking for certain keywords and if those are found, those emails are saved for later close analysis by humans.
To conduct the surveillance, the N.S.A. is temporarily copying and then sifting through the contents of what is apparently most e-mails and other text-based communications that cross the border. The senior intelligence official, who, like other former and current government officials, spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic, said the N.S.A. makes a “clone of selected communication links” to gather the communications, but declined to specify details, like the volume of the data that passes through them.
The official said that a computer searches the data for the identifying keywords or other “selectors” and stores those that match so that human analysts could later examine them. The remaining communications, the official said, are deleted; the entire process takes “a small number of seconds,” and the system has no ability to perform “retrospective searching.”
As usual, the government uses words deceptively so that assertions they make are not as categorical as they seem. The article says that in this case, they deliberately use the word ‘target’ ambiguously.
I suspect that even these supposed limitations are being circumvented.