Snowden: Just 10% of NSA data is terrorism-related

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New releases from whistleblower Edward Snowden have revealed that only 10 per cent of all communications data collected by the NSA came from the agency's targets.

The documents released by Snowden included 160,000 email and instant messaging conversations, as well as 7,900 files ripped from more than 11,000 online accounts. All of the info was collected during the NSA's highly controversial PRISM and Upstream projects.

According to analysis conducted by The Washington Post, nearly half of all the files contained details belonging to US citizens which had been "minimised" due to lack of a security threat.

A significant majority of the remaining 50 per cent were foreigners with no links to terrorist or criminal activities, such as tourists and visitors on business.

Among the documents that it pinched, the NSA found revelations about an overseas nuclear project, the military secrets of a foreign power and the identities of aggressive intruders into US computer networks, according to The Post.

Despite this, a far larger number of discoveries included the details of ordinary people's lives. Among them were divorce proceedings, tax documents, political and religious conversations and other private communications.

There are rules in place for most government agencies in the US when they intend to hack into someone's private life. Taps that are installed into phones by the FBI, for example, are switched off when a wife or child uses it.

The NSA, however, dredged up the names and details of every person in a chatroom their target entered. This included those who were logged into the room by default for just visiting the website.

According to a former agency analyst that spoke to the publication, the NSA taught their staff that only "reasonable belief" a target was foreign would be enough to justify spying on them.

Often people would be targeted for writing their emails or communications in a foreign language, despite millions of Americans not having English as their primary dialect, the documents detail.

The NSA would then push the boundaries outwards, so that every friend of a "foreigner" was guilty by association and warranted surveillance.