In case there was a doubt left in your mind, the National Security Agency has been authorized to spy on basically anyone and anything in the world. Oh, except for, count ‘em, four countries. The exceptions seem to highlight the rule.
The Washington Post obtained, among the documents leaked by Edward Snowden, a classified legal certification from 2010 that lists 193 countries, plus organizations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, that the NSA is allowed to intercept information about.
This is far broader leeway than previously known, according to the Post. The certification gives the agency free rein to eavesdrop through U.S. companies not only on communications of all those overseas targets, but anything about those targets as well. The countries not on the list are Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
The Post story emphasizes, fairly, that this is authorization and doesn’t mean the NSA is currently spying on every listed country or entity. The authorization has to be approved each year by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in Washington.
The language in the certification and an affidavit supporting it, however, leave very little outside the NSA’s surveillance purview. The Post gives the example of a Swiss academic who has information on Germany’s position in an international trade negotiation. The NSA could target that Swiss academic. Then, let’s say an American professor e-mails the Swiss academic’s e-mail and phone number to someone else. The professor’s e-mail could also be collected, according to the Post.
Last week, Verizon Communications (VZ)lost business with the German government over the theoretical possibility that the U.S. could demand records on that business. It’s not hard to imagine today’s scoop fueling further problems for U.S. companies.