The National Security Agency has developed surveillance programs that reach more Internet communications of Americans than have publicly been disclosed, according to current and formal officials cited in a Wall Street Journal article posted online Tuesday night.
The NSA has developed a surveillance network that can reach about 75 percent of all Internet traffic in the U.S., officials told the Journal. While the spy agency's filtering programs were designed to mine communications either originating from or ending abroad, the system is likely to gather purely domestic communications as well, the Journal reported.
The surveillance operates with major telecommunications companies like AT&T, according to the report. AT&T wouldn't comment to the Journal.
The Washington Post has reported that NSA surveillance collects content from phone calls made using the Internet and emails sent within the U.S.
NSA officials have defended the surveillance, saying they respect Americans' privacy. NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines told The Wall Street Journal that the agency implements "minimization procedures that are approved by the U.S. attorney general and designed to protect the privacy of United States persons" when domestic communications are "incidentally collected during NSA's lawful signals intelligence activities."
The NSA is "not wallowing willy-nilly" through online content, another official quoted by the newspaper said. "We want high-grade ore."
NSA spying is approved and overseen by the secret U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The first public look at one of the court's orders came from a trove of documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in June. The top-secret order compels a Verizon unit to give the NSA metadata on all its customers' calls for a three-month period.