The National Security Agency has been a topic of much debate recently. The agency reportedly responsible for spying on billions of people world-wide, including Americans, is the topic of yet another privacy concern.

NSA and UK’s GCHQ made headlines earlier this year with BlackBerry entailed, as the agencies allegedly co-oped on cracking BlackBerry’s encryption. Upon successful completion, the NSA cryptanalysts allegedly said “Champagne!”

New report from the treasure trove of NSA files from former analyst Edward Snowden, reveals how the NSA collects millions of email and IM contact lists.

Instead of targeting individual users, the lists are described as being collected en masse, in the hopes of letting the NSA map out and discover relationships between various players.

From the slide-deck given to the Washington Post by Edward Snowden, it was revealed in just one day last year the NSA collected nearly 700,000 email address books from the likes of Yahoo (444,743), Facebook (82,857), and Gmail (33,697), amongst other services.

The NSA slides also revealed that on a given day around 500,000 buddy lists from IM chat services were collected. However, it has not been clear whether such IM services as BBM have been compromised.

How is the NSA accomplishing such a mass data mining? relies on agreements with foreign telecom companies and foreign intelligence services that oversee facilities that handle major internet switches, with the collection not occurring on US soil.

The NSA hasn’t been given direct authorization by Congress or the FISA court for the broad collection of contact lists, and that it would in fact be illegal if the agency did so within the United States.

What’s unfortunate is US users of GMail, Yahoo, and other services that rely on their servers spread throughout the world will ultimately be victims of the data collection. One official is quoted as saying that when data is collected from those particular locations, “the assumption is you’re not a US person.”

Even scarier, since the data is captured while in transit, companies like Google and Yahoo don’t need to be notified by the NSA when information from their respective services is captured.

via Verge