Top-secret documents leaked to The Guardian newspaper have set off a new round of debate over National Security Agency surveillance of electronic communications, with some cyber experts saying the trove reveals new and more dangerous means of digital snooping, while some members of Congress suggested that interpretation was incorrect.
The NSA's collection of "metadata" – basic call logs of phone numbers, time of the call, and duration of calls – is now well-known, with the Senate holding a hearing on the subject this week. But the tools discussed in the new Guardian documents apparently go beyond mere collection, allowing the agency to sift the through the haystack of digital global communications to find the needle of terrorist activity.
The concern is that the capabilities could be misused or misdirected at innocents. In revealing the NSA metadata program, leaker Edward Snowden told the Guardian in June: "I, sitting at my desk, could wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal e-mail."
Rep. Mike Rogers (R) of Michigan, chairman of the House intelligence committee, rejected that claim. “It's impossible for him to do what he was saying he could do."
But the new Guardian leak appears to indicate something at least close to such capability.