With the election looming, the US government is using a new surveillance tool to spy on citizens who have the potential to affect the outcome of the November elections.
The National Security Agency (NSA) has quietly added a new tool to its software called ‘Data Collection Targeting’ to its “metadata collection” system, according to The Wall St Journal.
This is a software component of its ‘metadata’ collection system that uses data from the phone companies’ phone records and web browsing histories to find out the location of a person or a particular web page.
It was originally built by the US National Security Office, and is being rolled out to all US telecom companies, according the Journal.
The NSA has not said when or if this new feature will become available to the public.
The new tool is not a “new” tool, the WSJ says, and was developed by the NSA in 2013, as part of a system known as the NSA Targeting Initiative.
It is meant to help “find out where people are and what they are doing”, it says.
The WSJ goes on to say that it has been “dubious” that the US has not already used the NSA-developed tool in its surveillance efforts, despite a recent court ruling that the agency can use the new tool as part, if not exclusively, of its metadata collection.
But it is also not clear why the NSA did not already have the tool.
According to The Journal, it was developed in 2013 and has been used in the past for targeted monitoring of political opponents.
It has been a tool for US intelligence agencies to track down people and groups suspected of being terrorists and for the FBI to spy upon journalists and dissidents.
In its first major surveillance victory, the NSA on Thursday released a list of political and civil rights activists it believes to be associated with international protests.
The list includes the activist and civil liberties lawyer and activist Cornel West, as well as the political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was held by the United Arab Emirates.
In its initial report, the paper quoted an unnamed US official as saying the list was made “with the full knowledge of the United States government and its allies”.
The NSA told the Journal that the new system was “not designed to identify individuals who may pose a threat to the nation”.
It added that it uses a “targeting tool that uses metadata, including phone and internet metadata, to identify people and locations”.
The report went on to add that the tool has “been deployed in support of targeted investigations and surveillance of foreign nationals”.
“We are not doing this to find political dissidents,” it said.
The Wall Street News says that this new tool, if it is used, would be the first time the US is deploying a surveillance system in its global intelligence operations.
The news agency says the tool was “built in the shadow of a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2013 that the NSA cannot use metadata collection to search for communications metadata without a warrant”.
The ruling ruled that the collection of the metadata would violate the privacy of US citizens and activists.
It also led to a series of court cases against the NSA over its use of the technique, in which a judge ruled that “no reasonable person could find” that metadata could be used for surveillance purposes.