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NSA built search engine to crawl, share data

Newly released documents leaked by Edward Snowden reveal that the NSA isn't just collecting data -- it's also got a custom search engine to carry out the task.

This graphic, from documents leaked to The Intercept, describes the architecture of the NSA's ICREACH search engine. The Intercept

Not only is the National Security Agency scooping up vast troves of data on the American public, it's also sharing that data with other US government agencies.

The NSA has granted access across "nearly two dozen" agencies to data on "more than 850 billion records" that covers more than 30 different kinds of metadata on phone calls, cell phone locations, faxes, emails, and Internet chats, says a new report in The Intercept. Based on classified documents provided by whistleblower and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the planning documents for the search engine, called ICREACH for Intelligence Community Reach, implicate the participation of the Drug Enforcement Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation.

ICREACH was designed, according to the documents, to allow analysts to search for specific attributes, such as a phone number, and receive a list of results of calls made and received over a specific time period, such as a month. Those results could then be used to determine who the targeted person of interest communicated with regularly.

While the database that ICREACH searches covers an enormous swath of communication data, The Intercept story says that does not include information from the NSA's database that stores information on American's phone calls and collected under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. The 215 database can only be searched during terrorism investigations and only by a small group of analysts.

It's not clear from the report how much information crosses over between the databases.

However, Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the New York University School of Law's Brennan Center for Justice, told The Intercept that ICREACH allowed the government to to circumvent restrictions on retaining data about Americans.

Office of the Director of National Intelligence spokesman Jeffrey Anchukaitis told the Intercept that sharing information was a "a pillar of the post-9/11 intelligence community."