For the past few years, the US National Security Agency has been collecting digital communications of Americans who merely mention foreign intelligence targets in their messages. The agency insisted that practice also called “about” collection was vital to national security.

However, that’s about to change as the NSA announced on Friday that it would stop the controversial surveillance technique. The NSA said in a statement, “NSA will no longer collect certain internet communications that merely mention a foreign intelligence target,” according to a report by The Star.

The agency added that it would instead limit their collection only to communications that are sent directly to or from a foreign target.

Edward Snowden, a former intelligence contractor, revealed in 2013 regarding NSA’s spying activities. The digital privacy remains to be a controversial issue since then, and Friday’s change will be one of the most substantial changes to the surveillance policy of the United States. The court has already approved the changes, according to reports.

Issues with the 'about' collection

Pieces of digital traffic is often packaged together when it travels around the internet. If a certain package contains even a slight piece of information, whether it’s an email address or a phone number, of a foreign target, NSA collects that particular package to be scrutinized.

Those packages don’t have to be from the foreign target; it can be anyone's information. This practice resulted in surveillance of communications that are wholly domestic.

A surprise victory for the privacy advocates

The announcement by the agency was an unexpected win for the privacy advocates that believe the practice violated the US Constitution’s protections against unreasonable surveillance.

Privacy and surveillance expert Julian Sanchez said the change was very significant. He also stated that NSA scrutinized everyone’s messages that mention a foreign target instead of just identifying a specific individual. Senator Ron Wyden said he would develop legislation so this type of surveillance is prevented in the future.

Also, NSA also announced that it would delete a majority of the collected data during the said surveillance to further protect the privacy of the US people.

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