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NSA collecting email address books and chat contact lists

More NSA whistleblowing reveals the agency is collecting hundreds of millions of contact lists from email and instant message accounts from around the world.

More documentation on the activities of the National Security Agency (NSA) has emerged, with the NSA apparently collecting contact lists and address books.

(Credit: CBS Interactive)

The information comes from The Washington Post via, once again, Edward Snowden's collection of NSA PowerPoint presentations.

The NSA is apparently capable of gaining the contact data whenever the internet services transmit the information, which would occur any time you compose an email or sync an account across devices.

According to the documents obtained by The Post:

During a single day last year, the NSA's Special Source Operations branch collected 444,743 email address books from Yahoo, 105,068 from Hotmail, 82,857 from Facebook, 33,697 from Gmail and 22,881 from unspecified other providers, according to an internal NSA PowerPoint presentation. Those figures, described as a typical daily intake in the document, correspond to a rate of more than 250 million per year.

The data is analysed to find any unknown connections between intelligence targets.

The data is gathered via arrangements the NSA has made either directly with telecommunications companies or with foreign intelligence services. All information must be collected outside of the US and, because the data is being collected while in transit rather than being stored on a server, the NSA doesn't have to notify the internet services.

In a media statement, the NSA noted that all information collection operates "in accordance with rules approved by either the attorney-general or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), as appropriate, designed to minimise the acquisition, use and dissemination of any such information".

"We have neither knowledge nor participation in this mass collection of web mail addresses or chat lists by the government," a Google spokesperson told CNET. CNET has also contacted Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo for comment.

A Yahoo spokesperson told The Post that it would begin using Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) to encrypt email connections.