The NSA is poring over pretty much all emails and texts sent across the border by Americans to look for information that might raise red flags, the New York Times reports. The revelation means that the NSA's surveillance of Americans is broader than was previously known: It's not just direct communication between an American and foreign targets that will be intercepted; it's any email or text about a such a target. As New York puts it, "If you mention a terrorist's email address or phone number to a friend overseas, the NSA intends to find out." The NSA temporarily copies most cross-border communications, the Times notes, and scans them.
The expanded surveillance was mentioned, but largely overlooked, in information released by Edward Snowden in June. The ACLU calls it "dragnet surveillance" that will cause ordinary people to hesitate before discussing sensitive topics or visiting controversial websites for fear they will be monitored. “Individually, these hesitations might appear to be inconsequential, but the accumulation of them over time will change citizens’ relationship to one another and to the government.” A former NSA general counsel cites an example of how it could be useful: Say intel officials knew al-Qaeda was using a particular phone number for a specific plot. “If someone is sending that number out, chances are they are on the inside of the plot, and I want to find the people who are on the inside of the plot." (Read more NSA stories.)