The NSA is swiping 700,000 contact records a day from global users of email and IM accounts stored with the likes of Google, Yahoo, Hotmail and Facebook, new documents released by former defence contractor Edward Snowden reveal.
A power point presentation obtained by the Washington Post shows an unrestrained siphoning of address books into the NSA's mammoth data centres for the purposes of big data analysis.
The NSA said such analysis would help the intelligence agency better identify national security threats.
The slides show that on 10 January last year, the NSA’s Special Source Operations branch nabbed 444,743 email address books from Yahoo, 105,068 from Hotmail, 82,857 from Facebook, 33,697 from Gmail and 22,881 from other technology providers.
A further half a million instant message contacts from local and online chat clients were also grabbed for the NSA's data matching purposes.
The documents showed that the Australian Signals Directorate, designated with the code DS, contributed some 311,113 address books on that same day. It was one of six top overseas access points, according to the documents.
This, according to the documents, was typical of the NSA's address book snooping, which also sucked up notes that users appended to contacts revealing such relationships as whether users were family, friends or work colleagues.
Extended out, the figures suggest the NSA would hoover up some 250 million contacts a year.
But such was the capturing of data that the NSA's data centres were filling up with spam. Three of the leaked documents described the NSA's efforts to prevent the collection of "truly heinous data” and cut out data not needed by the agency.
Unnamed US officials told the Washington Post the data was grabbed as it passed over “the overseas collection apparatus”.
They said the agency in contravention of US law grabbed contacts from millions of Americans because it operated on the assumption that a user was "not a US person".