If you've sent an email to someone overseas recently, there's a decent chance that the U.S. government sifted through it, according to The New York Times.
The Times reported on Thursday that the National Security Agency is temporarily copying and then searching through the content of "apparently most" emails and other text-based communications that cross the U.S. border. Officials have previously acknowledged that the NSA is intercepting communications between Americans and foreigners targeted for surveillance overseas. But what the Times has now reported goes further than that — potentially all communications crossing the border are being examined for information linked to targeted foreigners.
A hint about this surveillance has been sitting in a leaked National Security Agency document put online by The Guardian in June. The document, which laid out how the NSA can carry out the 2008 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, contains a paragraph mentioning how the NSA "seeks to acquire communications about the target that are not to or from the target." Keep that phrase in mind: about the target.
Explaining how cross-border communications are handled, an anonymous senior intelligence official told the Times that a computer searches the data for keywords or other "selectors." Those that return a match are stored, to be examined later by human analysts. Non-matches are deleted, according to the official, who said the process takes "a small number of seconds" and the system cannot perform "retrospective searching."